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Semi-Tough Know the differences between competitive and aggressive.

IMAGINE THIS SCENARIO: After yet another den-meeting game ends in bruises and tears, the frustrated den leader cancels all games until further notice. At least until the bruises and memories fade, the boys will do extra crafts each week instead of playing outside. That, the den leader believes, will teach the boys a lesson. A good strategy? Not according

to James Larson, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater and an expert on school violence. He argues that the best way for boys to learn the limits of aggres- sion is to explore those limits through rough-and-tumble play. Many boys start exploring those

limits by wrestling with their fathers or older brothers. “They learn,” Larson says. That learning continues on the

playground and in the backyard as boys play war games or king of the hill. Usually the aggression stays within bounds, but not always. “Most of the time, it stops,” he says. “But sometimes somebody loses control and steps over the line, and somebody gets hurt.”

Aggression With Rules Scout leaders can help boys learn their limits, not by creating an anything- goes atmosphere but by encouraging what Larson calls “aggression with rules.” He cites capture the flag and soccer as good examples. “If you played soccer and didn’t obey the rules, you could be very aggressive and score a lot of points,” he says. “But you can’t, so you have to constrain your desire to be aggressive to obey the rules.” In other words, the control has to

come from the boy rather than from the adult.


Of course, someone will inevitably

go too far. But even then, the control must come from within. When adults simply yell, “Stop it!” and do nothing more, they lose a teachable moment, Larson says. “Instead, come up and say, ‘Tell me about what’s going on here. Tell me why you decided to do that. What might have been a better choice in that circumstance?’” Similarly, Larson says, boys learn

nothing during a chaotic troop meeting if a leader yells, “Stop it back there!” A better response would be, “Gentlemen, what rule are you break- ing back there?” That question becomes even more

valuable, especially with younger boys, if the boys themselves helped

create the rules in the first place. “The younger they are, the more they like the idea of being a part of it,” he says.

Going Too Far Too Often Some boys will have trouble with aggression no matter how hard you try. In such cases, you might need to have a difficult conversation with the boy’s parents. “Somebody whom the parents respect needs to say, ‘I’d like you to talk to his counselor at school about some anger-management train- ing. We love to have him here in the troop or in the pack, but he has this

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