A Cub Scout Badge for Video Games?!
A Cub Scout badge for video games? What next? Troop hikes to GameStop? Wienie roasts on the Wii?
"On my honor I will try ... to blow away more virtual grunts"?
"We are not encouraging them to go out and buy Halo," says Renee Fairrer, spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts of America, sounding like this is not the first time she has been asked about the new badge.
The whole idea is to bring parents into the loop when it comes to video games. About two thirds of U.S. households already own a game system. "Maybe the situation is not where the parent would want it," Fairrer says. "This is a way to open the dialog and possibly rearrange the agreement with their child."
Requirement #1: "With an adult, create a schedule for you to do things that include your chores, homework and videogaming." That's one of the three requirements for the Cub Scout belt loop. (Only Boy Scouts earn actual merit badges. Cubs can earn loops or pins.)
"Create a schedule." That sounds kind of sensible, especially since in my own home, the kids' computer time really has gotten out of hand. (So has my computer time, but that's another story.)
Requirement #2: "Explain why it is important to have a rating system for video games."
"Media literacy!" says Anne Collier, codirector of the nonprofit group Connect Safely. "Thumbs up!"
Requirement #3: Learn to play a new video game that is approved by your parent, guardian, or teacher. The Scouts hope it'll be an educational one.
But is that really the point? Educational or not, isn't just sitting there in front of the screen exactly what Scouts exist to counteract?
I remember the first time my younger son followed his older brother's footsteps and went on a Boy Scout campout last year. "That was the best time I ever had in my whoooooooooooole life," he said, plunking down his backpack and filling the living room with the smell of ripe socks and campfire. "I wish I could spend my whole life out there."
This from a boy who usually wished he could spend his whole life watching "Saturday Night Live" on TiVo.
And maybe that is exactly why it makes sense to have a video game badge, or pin, or whatever it is. Not to encourage kids to come inside and stare at the screen. To encourage kids who are already staring at the screen to dip a toe into Scouts.
"There's still knot tying, starting a fire, First Aid," says Lori Pierce, a Mississippi mom who just finished three years as her son's Cub Scout leader. "They've got to learn about the outdoors and then they can do the other awards."
There are awards for almost anything that could keep a boy's interest: Basketball, chess, skateboarding, soccer. You get the feeling the Scouts are doing everything possible to keep the boys from drifting back to their basements.
So far 41,000 of the video game belt loops have been awarded. Another 19,000 are on back order. That's 60,000 boys who will know how to tie a half hitch in addition to how to install an Xbox. And at some point each one will spend a night staring at flickering lights on a black background.
But this time, they won't be pixels.
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