Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years is the new book by Richard Stevick, professor emeritus of psychology at Messiah College. From the book description:

 In the second edition of Growing Up Amish, Stevick draws on decades of experience working with and studying Amish adolescents across the United States to produce this well-rounded, definitive, and realistic view of contemporary Amish youth. Besides discussing the impact of smartphones and social media usage, he carefully examines work and leisure, rites of passage, the rise of supervised youth groups, courtship rituals, weddings, and the remarkable Amish retention rate. Finally, Stevick contemplates the potential of electronic media to significantly alter traditional Amish practices, culture, and staying power.

Last week we asked for your questions, quite a few of which Rich answered in Part 1.  In Part 2 below, Rich answers over a dozen more of your questions on Amish youth, Ordnung, differences among Amish, and many other topics.

A big thanks to Rich, as he really went above and beyond in answering so many questions here and on the original post.

Growing Up Amish Rumspringa Years Stevick Book CoverWin one of 3 copies of Growing Up Amish

Johns Hopkins University Press has kindly provided 3 copies of Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years as a giveaway for Amish America readers.

To enter, leave a comment or question on this post.

If you already asked a question on Part 1, you can also comment here for an extra entry.

We’ll draw 3 winners at random and post them here next Wednesday, June 25th.

Rich Stevick Interview Part 2: Your Questions

Trish in Indiana: In the Amish communities in my area, there have been serious problems of youth getting into drug abuse. This problem is not, of course, unique to the Amish, and the Amish make no effort to deny that it exists, but I wonder if your research has given you any perspective on a specifically Amish response to the issue.

Richard Stevick: Trish, my sense is that illicit drug use among Amish youth has certainly declined in Lancaster County, PA, where I have had the most access to information. I write that the big turn-around started there after THE 1998 FBI drug bust in which three youth raised in Amish homes were convicted of selling drugs to Amish youth, drugs obtained from the notorious Pagans motorcycle gangs.

Prof Rich Stevick Growing Up Amish Author Photo

Professor Richard Stevick

Concerned parents sent a letter to all the bishops asking them to read it in their districts. It described what to look for in a person using drugs. Also, a new “gang,” i.e. youth group, was started that had an absolutely no-drugs/no drinking requirement. This, and the adverse publicity to the problem, kick-started the movement to supervised youth groups, now the norm in Lancaster. By all reports, drug use is way down compared with that in the parents’ generation.

I cannot speak with authority on the other big settlements, Holmes Co in OH, N. Indiana, and Geauga County, OH, but I’m sure that the problem exists. I’m also sure that the drug problem is characteristic of a minority of Amish youth, with marijuana being the drug of choice. Rumors of meth labs in Indiana surface periodically, but I have not tracked the authenticity of those rumors. In general, I believe things are better than they were 15 or 20 years ago. “Devil’s Playground” behavior is definitely at the extreme end of the wildness spectrum. And Lancaster County’s experience may offer a model to other communities who are still struggling.

Trish: Have you discussed how the Amish community attempts to deal with young people who may develop problems with drugs like meth, or for that matter alcohol?

Rich: Google “Amish Youth Vision Project” and also James Cates, its founder, to see a carefully thought out response to alcohol abuse and drug use in Northern Indiana.

Trish: Is this behavior something that most youth who get involved with it are able to set aside when they enter the church and marry, or is there a “silent epidemic” continuing among Amish adults?

Rich: I doubt that it is a silent epidemic, although I hear occasionally from Amish friends that a certain person in the community has been negatively affected by his drug abuse during his rumspringa years. Incidentally, I am amazed by the seeming lack of Amish adult alcoholics, given the weekend binging of a significant minority of youth. One of my Amish friends conjectured that the scarcity of adult alcoholics might be attributed to his belief that when mainstream youth abuse alcohol, it is often an attempt at self-medication for dysfunctional families or childhood abuse whereas Amish drinking is more likely a recreational activity. This may be over-simplified; or it may reflect truth.

Good questions, Trish. You may have better insights on the Indiana scene than I do.

Farm High Shot

Lancaster farm. This photo and all those below by Ed C.

Sheila Rose: You mentioned your students staying first with the Lancaster Amish, and later, with the Holmes County Amish, and stated that there were differences between the two. What are some of the most outstanding differences between the Lancaster and Holmes County Amish? Thank you.

Rich: Hi, Sheila, lots of superficial differences exist, e.g., clothing styles, Deitsch accents, holidays observed, singings or lack thereof, carriage designs, bicycles versus scooters, etc, etc.

The significant differences have to do with the following:

  • All Lancaster settlements are under the same Ordnung, or set of rules/guidelines, whereas Holmes/Wayne/Stark Counties have a diversity of affiliations (Amish denominations, if you will).
  • Lancaster County has no New Order Amish, unlike Holmes County.
  • Almost all Lancaster County youth attend Sunday night singings. Probably half, at most, do in Ohio.
  • Many Holmes County Amish do not practice a strict shunning (Streng Meidung), whereas all Lancaster settlements do. I discuss this at more length in my book.

When my students finish their first home stay in Lancaster, they assume that they pretty much know all about Amish life. After they experience their Holmes County home stay, they develop some Amish humility on that subject 🙂

Lindsay Ems: I’m wondering, Dr. Stevick, have you seen any changes in how young people are preparing for their future professional lives given a quickly changing economy? Are they starting to envision new careers for themselves? If so, how do new technologies become part of this process? Thanks!

Rich: That’s a good question. My sense is that older youth are certainly aware of the changing economic and technological scenes and are giving thought to how and where they might fit in. My other sense is that the school curricula in the private Amish schools have not changed much beyond the traditional Three Rs. Karen Johnson-Weiner would be a good one to ask. Or check her excellent book on Amish education, Train Up a Child.

By the way, the 15 year old son of one of our Amish friends in Lancaster County was asked by the narrator on the PBS documentary The Amish—a wonderful film—what occupation he might consider when he “grows up.” If I recall correctly, he rattled off a dozen and a half occupations, all of which were traditional manual skills jobs. Of course, increased numbers of Amish, at least in the large settlements, are doing desk and/or computer work.

Galen: Do the Amish read your books?

Rich: I certainly hope so! Those who have generally give me an A for accuracy and tell me that the truth sometimes hurts. In reality, my book, especially with the edgy cover photo, might not be one they would browse through if other Amish were standing nearby. However, I think that Amish parents and ministers would be well served to read my sections in the new edition on the Electronic Rumspringa, The Growing Challenge of the Internet, The Internet Cornucopia, Smartphone Challenges, Discovering the Social Media, and my Epilogue.

Galen: Since you are very knowledgeable in the subject, have you ever been contacted by an Amish teen struggling through the Rumspringa years?

Rich: I don’t remember this happening in terms of whether to leave or not. When working at Green Pasture/Philhaven, an Amish-sponsored mental health residency in Pennsylvania, I had opportunities to talk with youth who were struggling with emotional, family, and/or mental health issues.

Volleyball Game PA

Alicia Ernst: With such a strong interest in sports have you heard of any problems with gambling addiction?

Rich: I’ve asked about this, and the answer was that they do not know of any youth involved in gambling or addiction. I’m sure it happens, but I’m guessing that it is far less common among the Amish than with their English counterparts.

Emily: I am curious to know what the effect of your students (living for a week’s time with the Lancaster and Holmes County Amish families) is on the Amish families themselves (i.e., the families with whom the students lived). 

Rich: We have done no studies on this. As you might guess, families who are willing to accept an “outsider” into their home for several days are atypical. They tend to be on the progressive end of the spectrum (although I have had a “Dan” family, “Tobe” family, and Swartzentruber family host my students or my wife and me.) These self-selected families tend to be sociable, relaxed with outsiders, and curious about the life and family of their student guests. “We have learned from them,” is an often heard comment by the Amish host parents.

Al in KY: Have retention rates gone down yet (or increased) among Old Order Amish youth who are using internet, cell phones, etc.? Have retention rates gone up any in recent years among New Order youth who seem to have more supervision during their teenage years? What do you think future trends will be?

Rich: Al, I think I dealt with this in Part 1. Somebody needs to do these studies—a very important issue.

Damon Hickey: Would someone addicted to crack cocaine think it’s all right to “cheat a little” with drugs after joining church? So why does smartphone use not carry the same stigma, and why are the Amish you mentioned so casual about “cheating” with the internet–or anything, for that matter–even after they’ve become parents? In other words, why commit yourself voluntarily to a church that expects you to give up a lot and then look for ways to “cheat”?

Rich: “Cheating,” as you put it, varies a lot from person to person, family to family, and settlement to settlement. Amish can be just as skilled as we are in rationalizing non-compliance with expected behavior. For example, “Our Ordnung does not say anything about watching DVDs while we are traveling on vacation.” Or “Even though our Ordnung permits only scooters, I only ride bicycles or tricycles in Pinecraft, Florida, when I am there. I would not want to offend anybody back home by doing so.”

Or more creatively, “The ‘abschtelling’” part of the Ordnung deals with man-made rules; The forschtelling part with which we all agree is based on the Bible, and we all follow that.” (I hope I have not reversed those two parts, but, hopefully, you get the point.) Also, there are certain lines that very few members will cross, e.g., driving automobiles or watching television. At least that is my experience. I’m glad to hear from others on this matter.

Side View Buggies PA

Naomi Wilson: My question is: have you encountered Amish (leaders or individual families) who for a while were taking a “look the other way” or “see what happens”approach to internet and smart phones, but are now quickly backpedaling or taking an increasingly strong stance against such technologies, as the dangers become more apparent?

Rich: David McConnell, co-author of the book (among my top three), An Amish Paradox, a carefully studied and beautifully written book on the Ohio Amish, told me that this is exactly what happened in Holmes County: the Internet and smart phones flooded the community before most people understood or recognized what was happening. Now many leaders and parents are trying to get them “under control.” My feeling is that the New Order Amish have been more pro-active in this respect. The Lancaster Leit (folk), as of last fall’s bishop meetings, have also distributed an directive on the prohibition of smart phones for members. Time will tell.

Gayle Grabowski: Given the historic tradition and practice of pacifism within the Plain Communities, is there any interest among these youth to participate in military service, since other areas of the status quo are being challenged, and since their exposure to world events is obviously increasing? Or, are the teachings of pacifism so fundamental and defining for the Plain Communities, that this would be one area that would not be challenged?

Rich: Gayle, A fine question. I have not detected any weakening of the Amish commitment to non-resistance or belonging to the military. This is an abiding commitment, as far as I can tell. During times of popular wars, such as World War II, a number of youth growing up in Anabaptist homes, allowed themselves to be drafted or joined in non-combatant roles. Some actually were full-fledged soldiers, such as my Swartzentruber bishop friend who spent four years in Japan in the U.S. Air Force but later returned to the fold. Also, to the Amish’s consternation, there has been an uptick in males joining the church during war time or the reinstallation of the draft. Overall, though, the Amish do not join the military.

Tom Geist: Have you had much contact with the Swartzentruber or Swiss Amish? I wonder how they fair next to Old Order Amish with their kids and the issues that surround the running around years.

Rich: Tom, I have had excellent contact with the Swartzentruber people over the years, thanks, in part to my friendship with a Swartzentruber bishop and thanks to the help of Karen Johnson-Weiner, the absolutely ultimate authority on all things Swartzentruber. (I have volunteered to work with her if/when she writes an entire book on that group. This is my reminder to her 🙂 )

As far as the Indiana Swiss folks, this is still part of my personal Amish puzzle. Most of my knowledge comes from reading. I have never been to Adams or Allen Counties in Indiana. If any of you out there have good contacts, I would be glad to receive them.

Running Around Lancaster County

Ann K: Along the same lines as what Lee Ann asked – have you seen that the more conservative groups have a less supervised rumspringa and the more liberal groups really keep a tighter control of their youth? That seems to be the case with the groups I’ve come across here in southwestern Pa.

Rich: As you certainly know, “conservative” and “liberal” are often defined in terms of the definer 🙂 . Generally speaking, parents in the large settlements are taking a more proactive approach with their Youngie, as attested to by the Ohio Midway youth movement in the 80s and the Lancaster supervised movement from the late 90s on. Those more conservative groups in terms of the material ordnung tend to have a more hands-off approach with their youth. A number of them still have youth singings w/o any adult presence. And the New Order Amish, with adult involvement since their inception in the late 1960s are very hands-on. I’m sure that numbers of settlements are more or less in a state of flux regarding adult involvement in Rumspringa.

Loretta Shumpert: I, too, wanted to know which local stores will carry your book, as when I order a book the shipping charge can be costly.

Rich: I may have already answered this in Part 1, but just in case: Gospel Bookstore in Berlin, OH; probably the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society in Lancaster, PA; Amazon.com which discounts the book a bit but then adds the $4 Shipping and Handling charge. Or I still have a few to sell at the regular Amazon price, plus $2 instead of $4. Hope this helps.

Loretta: Do the Amish ever use outside (English) counsellors for marriage problems, unruly kids or grief counselling? I’m sure it’s probably seldom, but is it ever done?

Rich: Traditionally, Amish in general either tried to deal with these problems through the ministry or through respected members of the congregation who were considered “Amish counselors.” That has changed drastically in recent years with psychiatric and counseling services available through places like Philhaven/Green Pasture and Red Rock Refuge in PA; Spring Haven in Holmes County, OH; and Rest Haven in Goshen, IN, among others. The People Helpers movement, mostly in PA, works as an educational force for mental, spiritual, and marital health among plain people. In the past, my older Amish friends say that most of the above problems were either ignored, with hopes that they would improve or disappear, or were “swept under the rug.” Now Amish in the more progressive settlements are very proactive in dealing with these issues and others.

Linda: Have you seen any change in the work ethic of men raised on the farm, versus the younger generation where the fathers worked in an Indiana factory, as far as endurance or being able to “see” the work that could be done?

Rich: That’s a great question, Linda, and I have no direct knowledge about the “factory Amish,” other than that to this point, there seems to be no discernible loss of factory workers to the outside world. I know that some of my Amish acquaintances do worry about that possibility. I would be happy to hear from any of you who know or who are thinking about this question.

Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years is available at Johns Hopkins University Press, Amazon, Amazon Kindle, and many other places.

Get the Amish in your inbox