When I was a 12 year old First Class Scout, one summer camp I was teaching some new campers how to identify poison ivy. In Michigan where I lived, there were lots of plants with "leaves of three" that looked a lot like the rash-causing pest, but I'd been taught by my Scoutmaster, a veteran of the woods and amateur botanist, how to identify the genuine article. A group of boys brought me a sprig of three leaves they held with a paper towel, and they asked me, "Is this poison ivy?"
I took the plant in my bare hands and began wiping it on my cheeks, confidently saying, "If this were poison ivy, would I be rubbing it on my face?"
My scoutmaster, who was standing nearby, laughed and said, "John, I guess they get the badge and you don't, because that's poison ivy!"
Thatâ€™s just one way my Scout leader was for me a compass, a tool for keeping me humble and guiding me back to my path when I drifted off.
But things were different then.
We didnâ€™t have the Internet. School was easier.
I now have a seventh grade son, and he is learning things I didnâ€™t have to know until college. Our children today have more interesting things to do than we did but also more pressure, more schedules, and far more external influences than we had. The Internet is rife with ever-changing threats to our vulnerable youth.
When most of us parents grew up, a kid was safe if he was at home at night, but today an unsupervised, unguided child with a smartphone and a WiFi connection has a whole world ready to corrupt him or her. Bullying, invasions of privacy, pornography, and predators. They are all age-old dangers that can more easily reach our kids now than ever before.
In Scouting we recognize that teaching kids to navigate this terrain is as important as teaching them the Heimlich maneuver. And maybe just as life-saving.
A Pew Research study from 2011 lists the most common words kids ages 12 to 17 used to describe how their peers behave online. They most frequently report their peers are rude. Mean. Fake. And, crucially, different from how they act face-to-face.