Amish Youth, Alcohol and Rumspringa

Four youth of the Chautauqua County, NY Amish community were arrested for illegal alcohol possession last Sunday. Normally I don’t find the mundane “Amish behaving badly” stories all that post-worthy, but this one has been getting so much coverage I think it’s worth mentioning.

Scouring the web I’ve found reactions usually land in a few categories: 1) If they weren’t Amish, this wouldn’t be a story, 2) The Amish drink?(!), and 3) There go the Amish again, having their crazy Rumspringa.

Amish AlcoholAs to the first point, I’d tend to agree, except this story is particularly egregious–not only were the 4 youth caught drinking underage and drag racing their buggies, but they ended their escapade by slamming into a police car.

While I’m sure this story has gotten a big boost of coverage owing to the religious identity of the perpetrators, imagine a similar story about 4 non-Amish youth drag racing and somehow managing to crash into a cop car. It sounds like something out of a bad movie. And a little hard to believe (if you’ve got to hit something, maybe choose something that can’t arrest you?).  The piece de resistance of the story comes in the final line: “Police say several other buggies fled the scene.”  Do we laugh or cry?

Secondly, I think a lot of people don’t realize that some Amish do drink alcohol. It is true some Amish are teetotalers.  For others, homemade wine is just a part of the culture, enjoyed in moderation or for “health reasons”.  And some communities have real problems with alcohol, not just among the youth.

Finally, some Amish communities also have real problems with youth behavior. Amish respond in different ways–some by moving away to “calmer” settlements, others by getting adults more involved in youth activities (such as the numerous adult-supervised singing groups in places like Lancaster County).  But this behavior shouldn’t be seen as par for the course for Amish youth.  Rumspringa is often misportrayed as a time of waywardness and sin.   For some that is the case, but for a lot, no.

I’d bet the NY Amish parents are pretty horrified by what happened.  Hopefully the young folks aren’t thrilled by the national media attention either. Maybe the shame of such a story will resonate with Amish youth in other communities. Then again, knowing how young people think (“it can’t happen to me”), I kind of doubt it.

What do you think?

Photo credit: danielhedrick/flickr

Get the Amish in your inbox

Join 15,000 email subscribers. No spam. 100% free

    Similar Posts

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    1. SharonR

      Amish Youth, Alcohol, Rumspringa

      I would imagine their parents would be just as concerned as us non-Amish parents would be, with our “teens” getting into trouble or mischief, etc….when they “leave the nest” to test themselves, in the real world—-there will be stumbles along the way. The youth will eventually pay the price, and hopefully learn from their mistakes, and will be a better person, in the future.

      I raised 2 sons, on my own, and by the grace of God, amazingly they turned out well, despite their mischief making! They are now college educated, have respectable careers, and families, and are now going through the same thing I went through, with their children! What goes around, comes around!

    2. Tom

      I know several families in the Conewango New York settlement that have moved to “calmer” settlements (Angelica and Dansville) because of youth behavior. However most will say that the reason for the move was not the bad behavior, but the parents reaction or non action to bad behavior by their youth was the real problem. I have always thought that it is sad that the folks that play by the rules seem to find it necessary to made the move while the parents that have a hard time controlling their youth stay. Moving for an Amish family is a big deal. It is not just moving their belongings, but they have to build a new house or rework an English house, build a barn, fence fields and reestablish a business. Some of my friends after three years are still working on getting their lives back on track. I think that it is sad that they are not able to come up with an understanding with their fellow church members about this problem and find that moving is the only solution. Sometimes problems seem to hitch a ride on the moving truck.

    3. Roberta

      Yawn ...

      Around here, if they weren’t Amish this probably wouldn’t be a story. It happens all the time. I Googled “drunk driver crashes into police car” and came up with stories in
      Bakersfield CA 17 hours ago
      Orlando FL 18 hours ago
      Oshkosh WI 21 hours ago
      Earlier incidents in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas and Oklahoma as well as several YouTube videos.

      1. You forgot the drag racing part. Not so many of those.

        Not to make light of the story, as I’m sure the parents don’t think it’s funny. It seems like one of those “if anything can go wrong” situations. They’re lucky it didn’t go a lot worse.

        1. Tom

          Murphy's law

          LOL Murphy’s law, i have experienced it myself a time or two.

    4. Alice Aber


      Have we come to set too high of a standard for the Amish? After all they are human and failable like the rest of us in the world. Seems to me, as stated in your post Erik, #1, “if they weren’t Amish this wouldn’t be a story” is pretty accurate. We expect better of them than we do of our own. People always want to find fault in others and if you try to live a life such as the Amish do, then you are watched even more. That also holds true for the Christian who is really trying to live a Godly life rather than going along with the crowd so to speak. People just can’t seem to wait to point a finger at some mistake no matter how great or how small.

      It is a sad thing that this happened. But it would also be sad if it were an “outsider”.

      The bible says that “we are all sinners and all fall short of the glory of God”. That includes the Amish. I think instead of pointing the finger we should be helping each other to recognize and learn from our mistakes so we can become better people.

      Just my thoughts.
      Blessings, Alice

      1. Dan NIsley

        So well said

        As a former Amish, it’s so true kids will be kids no matter if they’re amish or nonamish I went through all of that, did many things I regret, but thanks to the Grace of God, I grew out of that and accepted Jesus Christ into my life. Praise the Lord !!!!!!!

        1. peggy

          Thankyou for your testimony

          That is an encouragement. It is refreshing to see someone so enthused about Jesus and being non-judgemental.

    5. Viginia Compton


      The whole idea of Rumspringa is contradictory. If the youth are expected to avoid the English world for life why do they allow them to try it out for a while? Given such freedom as teenagers, it is not surprising that some of them get into trouble. They have been so sheltered all their lives they have no idea how to act “out there.” Naturally they will want to try everything, and Rumspringa gives them the “approval”, so to speak, to do so. I find the whole situation very sad.

      1. Amish parents approve bad behavior?

        Hi Virginia, like Elin said below I don’t think you’re going to find a lot of Amish parents approving.

        That said some families and communities are more lenient as to what the youth can get up to. Also you are talking about technical adults in many cases, over 18 or even into their 20s. Yes they often still do live at home but after a certain age there’s a limit to what you can control (assuming you even thought it was a good idea to try to do so in the first place).

    6. I don’t think the Amish are aware of the publicity of this happening because they don’t have the Internet to browse and keep them posted of how far and wide this has spread. They may hear a bit of rumor here and there but I don’t think any “Englisher” will walk up to them and say, “Look what your youth did is all over the world.”

      1. Will Amish learn about this?

        Katie that is probably true except for all the youth with web-equipped cell phones (Facebook etc…)–I think that age range (some of them anyway) will get a sense of the news impact. Speaking of media, maybe Family Life needs to feature this issue in its “Problem Corner”. It’s good no one was killed in this deal by the way, apparently the buggy flipped on its side and there were minor injuries. There were 3 boys and 1 girl cited.

      2. Mary

        One might be surprised at how many Amish have internet, facebook, etc. on their cell phones. No, not nearly all of them do, but I personally have several Amish as friends on my facebook site.

        1. I also have a number of Amish Facebook friends, but they keep hush about what they see on the Internet, especially the Amish church members who are on the Internet at their work place. Telling everyone what they read would only cause many a problem.

    7. Virginia, rumspringa does not work the way media portrays it, youth are usually not allowed to do whatever they want and most will live exactly the same life as before only that they take part in fun activities for young people in order to meet and perhaps find a spouse. Yes, parents might overlook some small transgressions but no Amish parents tell their children to go out and sample ‘the world’.

    8. Alice Mary

      Internet ignorance---bliss?

      As you said, Erik, there are Amish youth with cell phones & internet access, so they will know when these stories hit the media. Perhaps that’s what some are hoping for—their “15 min.– plus a lifetime on the ‘net–of fame”. Do they truly realize how long this “news” will be circulating? Perhaps if they did, it might make a bit of difference.

      I personally always thought Rumspringa seemed strange…maybe not as strange as “bundling” (as in Saloma’s book), but certainly out of character with such a conservative Christian group. Of course, as I’ve learned here and through other readings & research, I know Rumspringa “traditions” vary widely from community to community.

      English or Amish, I think every parent hopes for the best as the turbulent teen years approach for their own children (in my community, parents who could afford it sent their sons to military academies. Some girls joined the convent.)

      I wish ALL parents of teens luck—and a good night’s sleep!

      (Been there!)

      Alice Mary

      1. "Mysterious" practice of bundling

        Alice Mary if I’m remembering right bundling came up briefly in the Old Order talk at Kutztown with James and Ben–in any case Ben often says that some of these practices he wouldn’t know anything about if it were not for Amish researchers writing about them 🙂

    9. Leanna

      While the concept of ‘Rumspringa’ is known to the Amish, I believe those who are enthralled by the Amish and their lifestyle would define the term quite differantly than the Amish would themselves. It is not always a negative thing as many non-Amish seem to visualize that it is. Think of it as a group of friends who have some things in life in common (church, community, college, etc.) who choose to do fun things together. Frequently if the group is large, there will be those who are the rebels and cause trouble. Afterall, we are all human, and while we don’t like the negative things to happen – it is quite possible that they will. I don’t endorse what these teens in NY were involved in. However, I do feel sorry for the Amish as a whole that the world around them has set them on a pedistol, idolizes them and then makes a big deal out of it when they mess up.

    10. Elizabeth Snoke

      I agree with idea that their being Amish and buggies involved made it socalled “newsworthy.” I’m sure each Amish community that has rumspringa has different attitudes toward, expected behavior about, and reaction to things that go on. I was a young adult in early 60s when the hippie movement started. I flirted on the edges of it but turned away when so many of my acquaintances were getting into drugs. I was raised in a Christian group that did not even use medicine (yes, DIFFERENT) and use of the drugs turned me “off” plus the fact that, a few years before, an older friend had tried smoking marijuana. He’d gotten it on a scout jamboree trip to Texas–he was an eagle scout. Why he even tried it, I don’t know, but he did. He had an impossibly rare aneursym in his brain. The effect of the marijuana on that sent him in grand mal epilepsy that eventually killed him. I had such a terrible crush on him, the idea of doing drugs turned me totally off and away from hippie-ism.

    11. Lattice

      Is the horse/buggy combo impaired in the same way an automobile is impaired by a drunk driver? Horses have their own minds, you know. And alcohol is not really uncommon at events that involve riding horses (trail rides, games, etc – depending on your circles). It would make sense to issue a reckless driving citation, but I am curious if they received breath tests and DUI’s as well.

      1. Good point Lattice. That and of course speed is another factor. I didn’t see anything about a DUI in this story, just underage possession.

        In Poland (I imagine other European countries as well) bicycle riders can get DUIs as well. And the permissible alcohol level is much much lower–I believe .02–which is basically nothing. Most people don’t even consider driving after alcohol, but a lot of people still get DUIs.

        1. Tom

          I am not sure of other states but I have heard instances here in Kentucky were people have been charged with DUI while riding a horse.

      2. OldKat

        A drunk is a drunk

        @Lattice: Yes, horses do have their own capacity to think. However, in the case of the impaired rider / teamster the horse is still going to be responding to the commands that it receives. In other words the horse has no ability to say “I think this guy is plastered so I am going to ignore his command to step out in front of this oncoming 18 wheeler”.

        Some years ago; 35, 40? My best friend witnessed a guy in a drunken stupor mount his horse and spur it up into a full gallop while they were on a trail ride. As the horse attempted to swerve to the left, the rider kept pulling it back to the right and never saw the parked bulldozer that he ran the horse into at a dead run.

        Literally a dead run. When the drunk staggered to his feet he found a board on the ground which he retrieved to beat the horse with, but stopped short when he finally realized that the horse was dead. Broke its neck in the collision with the blade on the dozer. So I wouldn’t rely too much on the hope that the horse will somehow be able to reason that a drunken rider / driver’s commands should be disregarded for safety reasons. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way; would be nice if it did.

    12. Erik

      I checked the Swedish law for driving and drinking. Here it seems that driving a buggy drunk would be legal as our law specifies that it is driving a MOTOR vehicle while drunk. It is of course only legal if you can manage to drive the buggy in a safe way, you can still be charged with endangering people in traffic and probably that is what would be the charge if a similar situation would occur in Sweden.

      By the way I listened to Amish Wisdom and you said that in Poland you ‘hold your thumbs’ instead of crossing one’s fingers. It is the first time I have heard of any other country other than Sweden where you ‘hold your thumbs’. Does crossing one’s fingers in Poland have any meaning, in Sweden it is instead the sign showing that you are telling a lie (I believe the folklore was that god could not strike you dead for lying if you crossed your fingers).

      1. Hi Elin, very interesting, I’m guessing that sort of buggy situation hasn’t arisen too often in Sweden (tourist buggies in Old Stockholm maybe?) The safest bet for people in that situation is probably to avoid being in that state in the first place…but if you are to stay off anything but your own two feet. That will probably cover you whatever country you find yourself in.

        You know what, we pre-recorded the show with Suzanne when I was in the States, and totally missed that it was on this past week. Yes the holding your thumbs is a good-luck gesture in Poland while crossing fingers is an indication of someone telling a lie.

    13. No buggies or anything drawn by a horse aren’t too common here. Someone having a wedding might be going in a horse-drawn carriage perhaps or there might be some parade or something of the sort. The Swedish royal family sometimes use horse and carriage in official situations but even then cars are far more common. I guess it is partly a safety issue and also that they are like most modern people and prioritize speed and comfort other than for very special occations.

      In some towns there are tracks for harness racing and then you do see horses and sulkies on the roads sometimes.

    14. Nelson

      Interesting,,,the other day in Mt. Hope ,Ohio, I saw a young Swartzentruber Amish man texting on his cell phone, , and saw several other from various catagories of Amish doing that too.