My youngest son recently earned his Eagle rank. Anyone involved in Scouting knows just how proud I am of him for this. I am proud of all my sons, but this puts him in a very small percentage of Boy Scouts who have achieved this highest rank.
His comment shortly after his Eagle Court of Honor was, "Mom, you should write about this in your blog." He wasn't asking for kudos - that's just not him. He realizes that he had an advantage that many Scouts don't have. Both his parents are Scout leaders. We've been doing it since long before he was born, so we had an advantage in helping him find his path to Eagle. He wants me to share what I've learned in the 33+ years I've been involved with BSA and the even longer time his father has been a Scouter.
The first step is to find a good Troop or Pack -- depends on your son's age. If you have significant experience in Scouting, the quality of the program is less critical because you'll be able to help make it a good unit. The first stop may be Be a Scout . org This is the BSA troop/pack/crew locator site. You can use it to find the units located closest to your home. You'll probably want the unit to be close, because meetings are generally held weekly and other activities may be closer to you as well. Unless you have friends in one of the units, it is best to visit at least the 3 closest to you. It isn't necessary to be a Cub Scout before being a Boy Scout, but it doesn't hurt either.
Look for the following:
Are they organized? I don't mean are the kids sitting down doing activities - that's not always a good thing. I mean does the chaos look like it is focused in some direction?
Are the boys having fun? Pretty self-explanatory, but are nearly all of them engaged in the activity most of the time. With older Scouts, the activity may be instructional more than exciting at times, but it shouldn't look boring for more than a couple of minutes at a time.
Are the leaders yelling at the boys? This is NOT a good thing. The leaders should be able to maintain control without raising their voices more than occasionally. I never had to yell at a den -- NEVER. Not even with 12+ boys in it. I was a den leader twice, for a total of 6 years and an assistant Webelos leader for 2. I've never had to raise my voice to a Boy Scout either and I've spent a lot more years working with them. It doesn't hurt that I am, by nature, somewhat loud and can put on a happy face no matter how much my feet hurt. Quiet people can be very effective - perhaps more effective.
In a Boy Scout troop, are there boy leaders running much of the show? You want a troop that is boy-led to the extent possible. Some things need adult leadership, but much of the program should be in the hands of the older scouts. We have our older scouts teach the younger ones fire safety, knife and ax handling, outdoor cooking, first aid, etc. We haven't had any serious injuries and the younger kids particularly enjoy the "don't do it this way" demos which make their points with humor.
Is your son welcomed when he arrives? Do the other boys seem happy to have another potential Scout in their unit? Do the leaders?
Do you see any warning signs that the BSA Youth Protection Guidelines are being ignored? This is a HUGE red flag. Stay away from any unit that isn't following BSA's Youth Protection guidelines . They are all important, but the rules about 2-deep leadership and use of the buddy system are among the most important. If you see violations of those rules, don't just leave - call your local Scout Executive.
Additional suggestions on finding a unit are welcome!