As girls approach their teen years, it can become more and more difficult to navigate the ever-changing schedules, interests, and obligations of your troop. Girls are solidifying their passions, taking on more responsibility at school and at home, and have other sports, clubs, or even a job to fit into their daily routines. When it seems like everyone and everything is competing for their attention, how can you keep older Girl Scouts engaged and inspired?
With all of the changes that come with growing up, Girl Scouts can remain an important constant in her life. A study by the Girl Scout Research Institute showed that girls with more than three years of experience in Girl Scouts rated higher in their sense of self, civic engagement, income, life satisfaction, success, leadership, and even relationship satisfaction (as compared to Girl Scouts with less than two years of experience). Cadette, Senior, and Ambassador girls gain important real-world tools, leave a lasting impact on their communities, and along the way, form friendships and memories that last a lifetime.
We reached out to outstanding leaders from Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast for their best advice on inspiring older girls and included some helpful tips of our own!
Set Expectations Early
At the beginning of the Girl Scout year, set aside time to figure out your troop’s goals and agree on them early. Determine what a successful year looks like to your girls – is it filling up the vest with badges, planning an awesome trip, or earning one of the Highest Awards? Plan accordingly! As schedules for sports, school, clubs, and jobs begin to solidify, it is also a great time to decide when and how often you will be having troop meetings. Older troops might not get together every week and may want to create a game plan for certain goals that will have to be worked on outside of meeting times. Along with everything else girls have to balance during these times, Girl Scouts might come after test prep or landing that lead theater role – and that’s ok. What’s important is that Girl Scouts makes everyone’s list of priorities.
Gladys Ochangco, a troop leader from Camarillo, notes that flexibility is key to keep girls coming back. She prefers to reach out to the three Seniors from her troop via text to let them know about upcoming events. “I will also follow up with them if I don’t hear back before a deadline to register because I know the Girls are also busy with school and extracurriculars and they can lose track,” she said. “If some Girl Scouts cannot make it to things because of their sports schedule etc., that’s okay. No guilt or pressure, we are happy to have the girls participate when they can, even if it’s rare.”
Teach Girls Responsibility
When girls step into Cadettes, Seniors, or Ambassadors, they should have a primary role in setting their agendas, planning service projects, and picking the Journeys they are most passionate about. Girls are most engaged when they are the ones calling the shots, so get them as involved in the process as possible!
Troop leader Jeanne Gard from Paso Robles has her girls put badges in the order of what they most want to work on, and only then steps in to help them create an outline. “I think one of the biggest things is when we’re picking Journeys or badges, they come up with so many different ideas,” she said. “When there are so many different opinions and personalities, it helps to step in to make a decision. Then I let them run with it.”
If you’re not sure where to start, try having the girls scroll through Journey ideas on Pinterest or coming up with a skill they can teach the whole troop. Maybe their dad recently taught them how to change a tire, or they picked up the guitar over the summer! Gladys Ochangco said that they were introduced to the concept of “Girl-led” meetings when her daughter’s troop started as Daises, and were later trained in all of the ways girls can have agency in their Girl Scout experience. “My Co-Leader and I really learned about the true leadership aspect of Girl Scouts when we did our troop leader training including reading Volunteer Essentials (we weren’t Girl Scouts as kids so we were learning from scratch)…and that’s when we had our ‘Aha!’ moment,” she said. “We tried to run our troop with those ideas in mind, including with the Brownies. If all troop adults took the time to read and learn about Girl Scouts and really fully buy into the Girl Scout mission, I think that might go a long way to keeping older Girl Scouts engaged.”
Troop leader Janet Castrejon from San Luis Obispo also stresses the importance of keeping troops Girl-led. “I’m just there for safety and a little guidance,” she said. “I present them with options including council and service unit events or suggestions of things we can do as a troop. I throw the badge descriptions out on the table, and they decide which we will do.”
Go Somewhere GREAT!
Girls stay in Girl Scouts for so many reasons, but also for the awesome opportunities they won’t find anywhere else. How can you leave a lasting impression on your troop that will keep Girl Scouts on the forefront? By capitalizing on all that Girl Scouts has to offer and creating memories that last a lifetime!
You don’t need to wait until they are Ambassadors to start creating some real travel goals. Start planning early or try going somewhere relatively nearby for an experience they’ll remember every year!
Lisa McKinny is a seasoned veteran when it comes to leading older troops, and she had some great advice for making adventure a priority. Her troops have visited Tahoe, San Francisco, Sacramento, Yosemite, Arizona, Baja Mexico, and even goes camping once a month for nine months out of the year. “Too many troops make the mistake of dreaming BIG about a grand trip (maybe abroad) and ask the girls to sell cookies for four years, without much other fun, and expect them to stay engaged,” she said. “I find it works better to plan a summer adventure every other year that is 5-7 nights long and the girls can earn money for ALL BY THEMSELVES.” We are lucky that we live in an area where there are great adventures just a few hours away. Another tip is to seek out unusual places to stay like a retired military camp, hostel, or even an RV. Not once have I stayed in a hotel with a troop. When the girls plan their adventure they should choose a place that their family would never (or have never) gone. Going to an amusement park is a family outing – not a Girl Scout adventure.”
Need some ideas to get started? Check out these fun local spots right within our council you can start planning a visit to with your troop! You can explore even more travel opportunities with Girl Scout Destinations!
Create a Safe Space
As girls get older, they need a safe place to go when school, friends, or relationships get tough. More important than ever, girls need an emotionally safe environment where they feel mutually respected and understood, and you can help create that outlet with your troop.
Let each girl know they are supported by recognizing the qualities that make them worthy and unique, they will start seeing those amazing qualities in one another! Promote fairness in the ways responsibilities are shared, disagreements are handled, and performances are praised. When possible, consult girls as to what they think is fair when making decisions and explain your reasoning. Build trust by helping your troop make important decisions and show confidence in their judgment.
Troop leader Jeanne Gard said that a big part of keeping girls engaged is becoming friends with them. “As they get older, the relationship has to change and adapt,” she said. “They’re at the age where they will call me for advice. They just know that I’m there for them and that they have a steady, stable person that they know they can turn to. All of them have told me that the best part of their meetings is that it is a safe place and they can let their guards down. They don’t feel judged by each other or me.”
When this type of environment is established, girls can also give and show trust to one another. Know that sometimes older girls will just need a space to talk and your original meeting plans may be overridden. By listening first (and encouraging your girls to do the same), you can help girls practice openly communicating and effectively manage conflicts. Encouraging this type of behavior and discussion will lay the groundwork for your troop to work with respect towards one another (and you!) for years to come. As Jeanne Gard said, “It’s the bonds and friendships that keep girls coming back.”
Grow WITH Them
Especially with today’s media culture, girl’s tastes are changing faster than the seasons. But you don’t need to be a TikTok whiz or Meme Queen to make Girl Scouts relatable! If college applications are stressing them out, see if there is a badge or patch to pair along with preparations (there are!). If they want to start stacking their resume early, help them start planning their Gold Award and making connections for future recommendations.
If your troop can’t meet in-person as often but the girls still want to check-in, discuss upcoming projects, or just keep in touch, try setting up virtual meetings on the off weeks through Zoom. Want to virtually collaborate on a brainstorm for your next service project? Set up a group board on Pinterest and get browsing! Set up a Google Drive, group chat, or another virtual sphere for all things Girl Scouts for when your girls are apart.
Leaders Janet and Gladys both find that text updates are the easiest ways to keep in touch with girls, while Jeanne started virtual meetings with her troop to stay on track during Covid-related shutdowns. “You have to be able to think outside the box,” Jeanne said.
Girl Scouts is here to work with girls, each step of the way is customizable to fit what matters most to your troop!
In short, girls will stay involved in Girl Scouts for as long as they feel engaged, driven, and supported. For your troop that might mean planning a yearly trip, going for the Gold, or having somewhere to turn to when the going gets tough. Troop leaders are the glue that holds it all together. You can make their experience one they will never forget simply by giving girls agency, supporting their passions, and being right by their side when they need it most.
Do you have more awesome Older Troop Tips? Share them with us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!
About the Leaders
Troop leader Jeanne Gard from Paso Robles has had her troop since they were just Daisies, and they are now entering their sophomore year of high school. Her troop of once twenty girls has slimmed down to eleven, and they are all working on their Girl Scout Gold Awards.
Gladys Ochangco from Camarillo started with Daisy/Brownie troop as a parent volunteer. After five years together, the troop became multi-level and Gladys stepped into her role as troop leader. A few more years brought more transitions, and the girls decided to start fresh with just three Cadettes. The three girls have now been together for a total of ten years and are very involved in leadership; two of them are National Delegates for our council!
San Luis Obispo leader, Janet Castrejon, started with six first-grade girls and grew to thirteen at their troop’s peak. After dwindling to four girls, they merged with another troop that was the same age. The other troop’s leader became Janet’s co-leader, and the troop pooled together their resources to become the group they have today. Janet is the secretary for her service unit and her girls will be graduating this year.
Lisa McKinny from Templeton took over her daughter’s troop in 2003, with Lisa seeing them all the way through high school. Out of the eight members, five earned their Gold Award. In 2009, she recruited a group of fourth-graders by going to open houses at local schools and assembled girls who wanted to join her adventure troop. She led this troop through high school and of the seven members, five achieved Gold. Finally, in 2017 she took over a Senior troop of four girls that had been together since Daisies, and they all graduated last year.