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Boy Scouts hunting the tech-savvy generation

Friday, August 14, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

DALLAS — Surviving in the wilderness once relied on a compass, map, hiking boots and a sense of adventure. Keep those stashed in your gear, but add an iPhone or laptop to the mix and you've got the new direction of the Boy Scouts.

The largest youth organization in the country is taking on a new approach as it targets the tech-savvy generation, and announced this week that its bible — the Boy Scout Handbook — is going online.

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To read the Boy Scout Handbook, go to bsahandbook.org/



The 475-page handbook continues to focus on subjects like camping, woodwork, leadership and citizenship, but the 12th edition includes a section on Internet safety and expanded information on GPS navigation. An iPhone application for the handbook will be available next month.

Scouts leaders say they've realized they need other tools to attract boys and teenagers to the organization, which serves about 2.9 million youths, but has seen its membership drop in recent years.

"We are talking to boys where boys want to be talked to, which is on the Web," Tico Perez, the national commissioner of the Scouts who oversaw production of the handbook, said in an interview Thursday.

The handbook is the latest of several recent initiatives to modernize scouting that include podcasts, an online scouting community, a YouTube channel and a presence on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Scouts' membership has fallen about 16 percent over the past decade, though leaders expect a boost in membership when school starts. They also hope events leading up to the organization's 100th anniversary in February and the technology perks of the handbook will also attract attention.

The online version will include links to videos that show Scouts exactly how to perform tasks and will help scoutmasters teach. The videos can be downloaded so kids can take them out in the field, Perez said. It will also have "Internet bugs" suggesting Web links about subjects highlighted in the book.

"If there's more first aid or more camping or more gear they're interested in, we'll be able to send them to sites that are monitored by us and that we're comfortable with," said Perez, who has been involved in Scouting since he was a boy.

Anthony Thomas, a 16-year-old from Lakeville, Minn., who in June was named the 2 millionth Eagle Scout, said he's excited about the technological possibilities.

"Maybe you don't know when you're going to need to use your Scout book, but when a situation comes along where you might need it, it's right there on your phone," he said, referring to iPhones' access to the Internet. "With the new applications starting to come around, the computer's taking a bigger and bigger role in scouting."

Evan Chaffee, a 21-year-old former Eagle Scout who was on the committee that designed the handbook, said the committee felt the technological advance is important for Scouts studying for rank and badge advancement.

"If they don't understand the topic or requirement, they can go onto their phone or to their laptop to do more research," said Chaffee, now a student at the University of California at San Diego.

"I think a lot of times in the past, a lot of kids have nodded their heads and said, 'OK, I guess I got it.' But this way, they have the opportunity to actually research and learn more."

While excited about the technology, the Scouts aren't letting it cloud their long-standing motto: Be prepared.

That's why the handbook includes Internet safety tips that aim to keep Scouts safe not only outside but online. Scouts are urged to alert adults to any Web sites, e-mails or anything else that makes them uncomfortable. They also are reminded not to give out their personal information, open e-mails from strangers or buy anything online without checking with a parent.

"As Scouts, we're supposed to be on top of our games in anything as far as health and safety," Chaffee said. "We need to learn how to use the Internet."


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