A new Girl Scout pledge: relevance

That must have been a tough cookie to swallow. The Girl Scouts recently discovered that it needs to be more relevant to today's girls. But true to the scout promise ("help people at all times"), the nearly century-old group is adjusting to the new times.

After more than two years of research and input from tens of thousands of scouts and nonscouts, volunteers and staff, Girl Scouts of the USA is undertaking its first overhaul in more than 30 years – and certainly its most wide-ranging.

America's largest girls' club has maintained its membership well enough, and reaches more than 10 percent of girls ages 5 to 17. But the 94-year-old organization was rattled when girls said adults weren't paying attention to many issues they face in daily life.

These include overscheduling; bullying, especially over the Internet and via cellphone text-messaging; "cutting" (self-mutilation), and teen pregnancy. Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of girls aren't raising their hands in class because they're afraid of being labeled smart – and being bullied for that.

The trick for scout leaders is to achieve an organizational nimbleness that can adjust to a new challenge such as cyberbullying, while recognizing that many harmful fads have their roots in basic age-old problems, such as peer pressure and low self-esteem. Activities that build confidence and teach life skills and leadership – the core of girl scouting – will never lack relevance.

The planned overhaul shows a good balance between the need for flexibility and the retention of bedrock values and programs. There will still be badges and campfires, and Girl Scouts will still emphasize leadership and the development of courage, character, and confidence.

But by greatly consolidating its organizational structure, the scouts should be able to free up resources and time so it can move more quickly and uniformly. And by building up its research institute into the nation's top information source on girls generally, it can better track girls' needs, and better measure and adjust scout programs.

Volunteer adults will undergo training that includes how to spot signs of bullying and how to address issues such as cutting without "outing" anyone in a group setting. The entire curriculum is being rewritten to make greater room for topics such as the ethical use of technology – online chat etiquette, for example, or cellphone photo use.

A more relevant Girl Scouts can only reach girls who don't quit. But many do quit in middle school because they see scouting as "uncool."

Again, scout leadership appears to be on top of this, launching a marketing campaign reminding girls that scouting is fun and can lead to travel. For older girls, the leadership is exchanging the dreaded uniform for khakis of a scout's choice. It will promote the Gold Award as a highly desirable road to a college scholarship (just as the boys' Eagle Scout Award is). And Girl Scouts is wisely focusing on outreach to Latinas, whose moms may never have been in the scouts.

Transforming this organization of nearly 3 million members and a million volunteers is of vital interest to the health and happiness of America's girls, and could be helpful to other all-girl groups. It needs the country's full support.

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