After a Decade, Boy Scouts Get New, Updated Handbook

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The Boy Scout motto is "Be prepared," and that apparently includes adapting to life in the late 1990s.

In the first new edition of The Boy Scout Handbook in a decade, members of the youth organization get advice on Internet safety and expanded guidance on sexual responsibility, alongside traditional information on tying knots and starting a campfire without matches.

"We have met the needs of 21st-century kids," said David E. Setzer, the vice chairman of the National Boy Scout Committee, an advisory panel that oversaw the new edition. "Kids wanted information that dealt with the real problems they faced."

The new 450-page manual mentions how unplanned pregnancies and such sexually transmitted diseases as AIDS can knock a Boy Scout off the trail of life.

Safety First

Of course, most of the colorful and sleek new edition is devoted to such decades-old Scouting topics as first aid, swimming techniques, hiking, and camping.

But a new section called "Prepared for Life" provides advice on getting along with others, helping around the house, and being sexually abstinent until marriage.

The handbook also warns Scouts about safe use of the Internet. "Never agree to meet anyone who has contacted you on-line unless your parent or guardian comes with you," it says.

The first Boy Scout handbook was published in 1910, when the Boys Scouts of America was founded. Some 36 million copies have gone into print since then. The new handbook is the 11th edition and was updated by writers and advisers at the group's headquarters in Irving, Texas.

Scouts were included in the review process, and many of their concerns were incorporated, Mr. Setzer said. The new edition is sturdier and has fewer pages than the older edition to make it easier to take along on camping trips.

Chris Davenport, a 21-year-old Eagle Scout who saw the new handbook at a Scouting shop last week, said it "was quite amazing compared to what we had before."

Mr. Davenport, a leader-in-training for Troop 131 at the First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Va., said Scouts should find the updated information useful. "There is always the possibility of going down the wrong road," he said. "The handbook helps set you straight on where you ought to be."

To fit the new section, some traditional material about plants, insects, and pioneering was removed and will be added to the next edition of the Boy Scout Field Guide, Mr. Setzer said.

More than 3.5 million boys participate in Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs in the United States, many through troops organized at public schools. Cub Scouts are boys in grades 2 through 5, while Boy Scouts are ages 11 to 17. Another 1 million youths are in other Scout programs, such as the Venturing (formerly Exploring) program for young men and women ages 13 to 20.

The new handbook does not directly address recent controversies surrounding the organization's refusal to admit homosexuals, or youths who refuse to take the Scout Oath, which includes swearing a duty to God.

In a ruling last spring, the California Supreme Court said that the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, did not violate state anti-discrimination laws by excluding gay youths and adult volunteers, as well as atheists or agnostics who refused to take the oath.

A New Jersey court, however, ruled last spring that the Scouts could not bar homosexuals.

'Manly' Control

The new manual urges Scouts to ask parents and religious leaders about sexual matters and to abstain from sex before marriage.

Mr. Setzer noted that Boy Scout handbooks have long included basic references to sexual responsibility and advice to abstain from cigarettes and alcohol.

In the 1945 edition, boys were urged to "keep control in sex matters. It's manly to do so."

Vol. 18, Issue 13, Page 7

Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as After a Decade, Boy Scouts Get New, Updated Handbook
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