On the heels of the “20 Unique Ways Amish Raise Their Kids” article, another click-magnet piece popped up on my news feed this morning. This one is called “15 Insane Rules All Amish Kids Must Follow” (source article removed at thetalko.com).
“Amish People Rules”
I believe the idea of “Amish rules” is appealing to people because the Amish are seen as a strict culture from the outside. In my experience, people’s imaginations can be more vivid than what actually goes on in Amish communities. That’s why portrayals of the Amish as secretive, severe, and disciplinary naturally appeal to readers. Articles suggesting you’ll get “a closer look at Amish people’s rules” is naturally going to incite curiosity.
Amish Church Rules
Amish do of course follow a set of lifestyle rules and guidelines that are agreed upon in each Amish church. This is called the Ordnung, and it is reviewed and re-affirmed twice each year. They can vary, with some churches having stricter rules and standards than others. That’s not really what this article is about, though.
So let’s get to the article. I take “Insane” in this context to mean crazy, odd, or absurd (that is, according to the article writer/editor).
Similar to the 20 Unique Ways… article, this one presents a list of “rules” for children in Amish society. The article itself appears on a pop culture site that ostensibly has nothing to do with the Amish.
So let’s have a look at this latest list; like last time, I’ve added my own comments below on these “Amish Rules”. How accurate are they? (And secondly, how “insane” are they?).
“Amish Rules” (a closer look)
15. They Have To Follow A Really Strict Dress Code – So first off, this would be true. The Amish dress code would be considered “strict” by most non-Amish people. Though I think “insane” might better describe the way some non-Amish folks dress and present themselves today. Amish dress is a marker of their belonging to a community and also a sign of modesty. But this Amish clothing rule is pretty much on point.
14. Once They’re 14, They Have To Leave School – Also true, mostly. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, Amish are required to attend schooling until age 15. Those Amish children who are still 14 when the next school year starts attend what are known as vocational classes, for a few hours, one day per week.
13. Amish Kids Are Allowed To Do Whatever They Want During Rumspringa – Unsurprisingly, Rumspringa makes a fast appearance in the list. Amish rules for their youth can vary. While some Amish go through a wilder period during their youth, the vast majority live at home under their parents’ roof in this time. To say they are “allowed” to do anything they want is an exaggeration. Most non-Amish parents don’t permit their at-home teen children to do whatever they want as far as partying, etc. With most Amish parents it is the same. They’re going to have rules for their children just like any parents would.
12. Kids In The Amish Community Have To Work At A Young Age – I would say “have to” and in many cases “want to”. Amish children often want to help out because that is what their bigger siblings do as well as their parents. Work is more ingrained in the culture as something that is a valuable and productive way to spend time (rather than alternatives that lead to trouble, laziness, etc.). Is that insane? I would say this is more a cultural value than a rule.
11. Some Amish Kids Play With Faceless Dolls – This is true. I tried to purchase one from a well off-the-beaten path Amish shop recently, and was told that they usually just sell those to their “own people”. I kind of liked that response 🙂
The article writer suggests the faceless nature of the dolls is connected with the value of modesty, the idea that everyone is equal, and that Amish believe toys should not have a human representation on them. To be honest, I am not 100% sure of the reasoning behind the faceless doll. But I think it is probably some combination of those reasons, with a splash of the force of tradition thrown in.
For that matter, is the faceless doll universal and common among all Amish? I don’t think so, am pretty sure it is something seen more in plainer groups. So not a hard-and-fast Amish rule, but something more like tradition.
10. Amish Teenagers Are Forced To Make A Decision – Sounds kind of brutal doesn’t it? This is about whether or not an Amish young person decides to join the church.
But, there is not an official “deadline” which suggests a pressure-filled period when one must decide whether he/she is “in” or “out”. Amish may join the church as early as 18 (or in some cases, even earlier). And there is no Amish church rule that says they can’t become a church member even in their later 20s (or beyond that).
Factors like peers, parental pressure to varying degrees, desire to marry someone in the church, and of course, religious convictions all factor into it. Everyone, Amish or not, makes life-changing decisions however, whether that is related to religion; a spouse; to go to college and if so, which one; career, etc. So I’m not sure how insane that is.
9. Little Ones Have To Go To Bed Very Early – Amish children on balance probably go to bed earlier than non-Amish ones, but that’s also because Amish parents probably do too.
With early milking, factory shifts, rides to market, and an overall schedule more aligned with daylight hours, Amish are probably hitting the sack on average earlier than non-Amish. I wouldn’t say it’s rigid in a military sense and I’ve often been up fairly late in an Amish home where the little ones stay up until they start getting cranky.
So this Amish rule is not so different from non-Amish parents’ rules for their children. But given the especially early wake-ups common in Amish culture, I’d say Amish children are going to bed on average earlier than non-Amish children.
8. They Are Not Allowed To Play Musical Instruments – This so-called Amish rule is off-base. While Amish church music is unaccompanied by instruments (only voices), the harmonica is one fairly accepted and common instrument Amish might play in leisure time. In some communities, you’ll find the guitar. Things may vary across the Amish, but musical instruments are not across-the-board excluded. They’re just not incorporated into church music.
7. Moms Prepare Their Daughters For Marriage And Motherhood By Making Them Do Chores – Yes, this is the case. With the Amish, the female’s role centers more around the home. This includes skills like cooking, cleaning, baking, and handicrafts. It may seem “insane” for some today; it probably didn’t in the 1950s. And again, not so much one of the Amish rules as it is a cultural norm.
6. They Are Allowed To Start Dating In Their Teens – Correct. Like non-Amish people. Not sure what’s odd about that.
However, what’s odd is that the article claims that while boys start dating at 16, “girls are allowed to start dating when they are either 14 or 15 years old.” That’s a new one for me.
The age of 16 is when Amish youth, boys and girls, join a youth group, and this is when dating can begin. That would be what you might generally consider an Amish dating rule. Perhaps there is a more obscure practice like this in a small settlement somewhere, but it’s not accurate to present this as the way things work for “the Amish.”
As for other Amish dating rules and customs, they can vary across communities (and really need to have their own article to do the topic justice). For more information, here’s an account of an Amish first date, and a look at other Amish dating customs.
5. Amish Children Do Not Use Technology – A version of this was covered in the previous list. Even if you take “technology” to just mean smartphones and the internet…for a lot of Amish this is untrue. Young children wouldn’t use those things (they certainly wouldn’t have a tablet to play with as a tot, which seems common for non-Amish families), though teens in many communities do have smartphones – which concerns their parents.
“Technology” covers many things though. All Amish use some variety of technology, even the plainest groups. So I would’ve worded that one differently. But generally speaking, restricted technology is an Amish rule of sorts. This would be covered in the Ordnung mentioned at top. It would also vary by community, with some Amish permitting more gadgets and conveniences than others.
4. Moms Start Teaching Their Kids Manners Right Away – I think the writer might consider this Amish behavior rule “insane” because the Amish do discipline their children to behave in the proper way from an early age. A good example is the mealtime prayer.
While a one-year-old might act like a one-year-old during the meal, Amish train even a child this young to “put paddies down” (put your hands down in a position of prayer) during the silent pre-meal prayer. And amazingly even the very young ones, who some parents might think are too young to be taught, can be taught to do this.
3. Children In The Amish Community Are Always Expected To Care For Their Younger Siblings – Amish children often do look after their younger siblings. This is the one point on this list of Amish rules where I might somewhat sympathize with the idea of “insane”, from a safety standpoint.
Sometimes you see a six-year-old looking after say, a two year old. I don’t know if I’d be comfortable with some of the situations the children are left in. But that may also be a reflection of the emphasis (over-emphasis?) on safety we have in 21st-century America.
The Amish farm environment (and I’d argue Amish life in general) is more dangerous than your average suburban environment. Amish parents do seem to entrust their children with a lot of responsibility in some cases to keep watch over their younger children.
However, this may mean Amish parents also do a good job of teaching their children at a very young age about the dangers they need to avoid (road traffic, farm dangers, etc.).
2. They Have To Help Their Parents Farm – True, doing chores, helping with milking, etc. are normal parts of an Amish farm child’s life. Even for non-farmers, cleaning up the horse stalls, feeding the animals, etc. are normal and expected tasks for children. Amish grow up in a much more rural environment, around animals, so their childhood tasks reflect that. Doesn’t seem too strange to me. Again, not so much a rule, but a common way of life for agricultural families throughout history.
1. Amish Kids Are Not Allowed To Contact Anyone Outside Of The Community – This one feels a little weird. On the one hand, it might be odd if a young Amish child was independently hanging out with non-Amish people all the time, and without their parents’ knowledge.
But Amish have non-Amish neighbors, customers, friends, etc. Amish children watch over roadside stands and interact with non-Amish customers, without their parents watching over their shoulders. This “Amish rule” makes it sound like the Amish are cult-like and completely isolated, which is far from the reality. This is exactly what I was talking about in the intro to this article. The idea of strange “Amish lifestyle rules” like this one, which make them seem like a cult – that will always resonate with some readers.
Rules for the Amish?
You can read the author’s list and explanations of each Amish rule in full here (unfortunately, the original article has been removed). The information in her list is not all off-base and a lot of it is more or less true…though as I’ve covered above, there are some things that are exaggerations, incomplete, or just untrue.
I think the larger point is the idea that many of these Amish rules are odd, or again to use the writer’s title, “insane”, suggests how much Amish culture and the dominant culture have diverged over the past several generations. While it’s true that some of these rules and cultural aspects are specific to the Amish…many of them just used to be considered common sense or “the norm” as far as raising children (manners at a young age, chores, modest clothing).
It probably wouldn’t hurt today’s non-Amish children if more parents considered these “Amish rules” less “insane”, and largely a good way to raise a child to be a productive and healthy member of a community.