People who participated in scouting or guide programs as children may have better mental health in adulthood, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Scout and guide programs aim to help children develop skills in areas such as self-reliance, leadership, integrity, helpfulness, and resourcefulness. Many of these traits are cultivated through outdoor activities, which often include camping, hiking, and backpacking.
How Scout Programs Shape Mental Health
For the study, researchers pulled data from the United Kingdom’s National Child Development Study, a longitudinal study of nearly 10,000 children who were born in 1958.
About a quarter of participants had participated in scout or guide programs in childhood. Those participants scored better on measures of mental health at age 50. They were about 15% less likely overall to experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Other Benefits of Scout and Guide Programs
The study’s authors suggest the focus of scouting programs—cultivating resilience, self-reliance, and commitment, among other things—may help explain how these programs benefit mental health. Scouting and guide programs also increase opportunities to spend time outside. Many studies support the benefits of spending time outside and in close proximity to nature. A study published earlier this year found that neighborhood green spaces could be linked to a reduction in aggressive behavior among teenagers.
Other research supports the notion that children benefit from participating in scout and guide programs. According to research sponsored by the Girl Scout Research Institute, some long-term benefits of scouting include:
- Higher income
- Greater educational attainment
- Increased civic engagement
- More interest in volunteering and community service
- More leadership experiences
According to the research, 78% of Girls Scouts have participated in leadership opportunities. By comparison, 55% of girls who were not Girl Scouts have participated in leadership opportunities. Girls Scouts were more likely to see themselves as leaders or potential leaders, and they were also more likely to have positive views of women in leadership roles.
Additional research from Tufts University found that after three years of being involved in a scout program, Boy Scouts reported increases in helpfulness, kindness, and cheerfulness, among other traits. In a control group of boys not involved in a scout program, the research team found no significant increases in similar traits.
- Hilliard, L. J., Hershberg, R. M., Wang, J., Bowers, E. P., Chase, P. A., Champine, R. B., . . . Lerner, R. M. (2014). Program innovations and character in Cub Scouts: Findings from Year 1 of a mixed-methods, longitudinal study. Journal of Youth Development, 9(4), 4-30.
- How Girl Scouting Benefits Girls [PDF]. (2014). New York: Girl Scout Research Institute.
- Scouts and guides have better mental health in later life, study finds. (2016, November 9). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-11/uoe-sag110816.php
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