Perhaps no aspect of Amish society has received as much popular attention as the idea of “Rumspringa“. Various media including books, TV and documentary film have addressed the youth period, also know as a time of “running around”. Amishman Aaron Miller, who in the last installment discussed the Ordnung, addresses misconceptions and realities of Rumspringa:
And now turning to Rumspringa. I’ll try to recap what Rumspringa is and what it is not. What is mythical and what is reality. The reality is at the age of 16 the young begin attending youth gatherings. The purpose of these is to socialize with peers and to find a marriage partner. Once married this period of life is over. The myths are that Rumspringa is the time to decide whether you want to be Amish or not.
That choice is made sometimes earlier than 16 but not acted on until later in the teenage years, or sometimes when one fails to find a marriage partner that person gradually drifts away to another way of life. Then also sometimes the choice to leave the Amish is a result of a mid-life crisis of some sort–happening even after baptism and marriage.
The idea that parents encourage the youth to sample the world with the hope that this inoculates them against the world is very much a myth.
Amish parents like any other parents are very concerned about their children’s behavior and do everything they can to help the young make good choices. The youth are not encouraged to sow their wild oats. When a young person decides to be rowdy and engage in deviant behavior they are making a choice of their own. Certainly not at their parents’ behest or suggestion.
Although the degrees of parental resistance and correction vary some, poor choices and deviant behavior by the youth cause all parents anxiety.
Rumspringa is not a period of temporary freedom. Some of the young are baptized members of the church and as such are accountable for their behavior to the body of believers. This doesn’t mean their behavior is always perfect and always in the Ordnung but nonetheless they are responsible for their actions. Other youth are unbaptized and are not members of the church and as such are not accountable to the church. However they are the children of concerned parents and since the unbaptized are usually in their early to mid teens they are therefore still the responsibility of their parents, who are doing the very best they can to be good parents.
The youth are also learning about peer pressure, some of which is positive, such as that produced by girls seeking decent guys!! And then also some peer pressure as any American teenager knows is not so positive.
In spite of parents’ best efforts it seems the young everywhere sometimes only learn the hard way.