Rich Stevick on Growing Up Amish – Part 1 (Submit Your Questions & Win 1 of 3 Copies)

Today we have Part 1 of an interview with Messiah College professor emeritus of psychology Richard Stevick on his Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years.

Win 1 of 3 copies of Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years

Ask Rich a question in the comments below, and you’ll automatically get a chance to win one of three copies of Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years.

Growing Up Amish Rumspringa Years StevickThis is the second edition of Growing Up Amish (first published in 2007 and originally subtitled “The Teenage Years”–Rich explains the change below).

This updated edition covers new information including the effects of social media, smartphones, and the potential changes to Amish society due to these technologies. Other areas include “work and leisure, rites of passage, the rise of supervised youth groups, courtship rituals, weddings, and the remarkable Amish retention rate.” 

You’ll be able to enter the giveaway contest the usual way as well–by leaving a comment on Part 2 of this interview. But if you have a question for Rich about Amish youth or other Amish issues, here’s your chance to possibly get an answer–and get an extra chance to win the book.

We’ll feature some of your questions in Part 2 of the interview next week.

 Rich Stevick on Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years (Part 1)

Give us some background on you and the Amish: How, when, where, why did you get into this field?

Rich Stevick: A dozen years into my teaching career at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, I was asked by a colleague who was teaching a course on Amish life if I would pick up the class because he was leaving Messiah. When I told him that I didn’t know anything about the Amish, he suggested that since it was only a three week May-June term class that I learn along with the students. Since that was already my modus operandi, since I had a deep interest in different cultures, and since the class consisted of home stays with Amish families, I said “Why not give it a try.” And that was the start of a fascinating journey that has extended to almost a quarter of a century.

Are you still involved in teaching, researching, and writing?

This week, I just finished teaching our Amish Cross-cultural Studies class for the umpteenth time. My colleague, John Bechtold, and I, started this year’s class on May 22 at Messiah, placed students for six days with Lancaster County Amish families, returned to class for debriefing and more class work, then went to Ohio where our students lived with Holmes County families—to find out, to their surprise, that not all Amish do things just like the Lancaster Amish. Of course, among other things, that’s what we wanted them to learn.

That class is a fascinating subject in itself. Perhaps we can do a follow up soon on Amish America to explore more about what challenges the students face, how you obtain host families, and what they—and you—have taken away from such a class and experience over the years. But for now I want to ask you how you happened into your studies, research, and writing about Amish youth and their parents.

Every since my first year at Messiah, I taught classes on youth and adolescence—a class called Adolescent Development. It was one of my favorite classes to teach. When I started teaching the Amish class in 2001, I never thought about researching and writing about Amish adolescence. I soon found, however, that few of the things that I wanted to know about Amish teens and parenting were in the major books of that time, e.g., Amish Society by John Hostetler. My interests and curiosity led me deep into the subject, and eventually I realized that I needed to share what I was learning with other scholars of the Amish, with the public at large, and with interested Amish, especially my research on the Internet for this book.

Rich Stevick And Friends
Rich Stevick and friends

How difficult was it for you to learn about the youth and about Amish parenting? I thought that this information tended to be privileged and off-limits to outsiders.

You are right. My feeling is that Amish in general have been protective of that information, perhaps because it has been an area in which parents and ministers have felt vulnerable. They like to see things “decent and under control,” and, of course, human behavior does not always match that ideal, especially with the emerging generation.

I think I was able to gain the confidence of Amish adults and youth over time because it was not a hit, run, and publish approach. Instead, I got to know many of them over the years of teaching my class and developing relationships. Also, I was fortunate to have some highly respected Amish leaders as friends, and this gave me instant credibility with new Amish contacts. (I quickly learned that dropping the right names in Amish circles resulted in an expanding circle of helpers.) And I was extremely careful in keeping sources confidential and not using Amish names in my writings (the research process I took in studying Amish youth, smart phones, and the Internet for this book took a somewhat different direction, but I’ll save that for later.)

Your first book, Growing Up Amish: The Teenage Years, came out just seven years ago. Why a revision so soon, and why did the title change from “Teenage” to “Rumspringa Years”?

The title change first: Most Amish define rumspringa as that time between age 16 and marriage when youth are free to expand their peer contacts, often beyond the family and neighborhood ties, to socialize with others and eventually seek and find a mate. The media have often distorted this to mean a walk on the wild side or perpetual Spring Break for all Amish youth. My book deals with the Amish youthful experience till the end of rumspringa, a period that culminates in marriage for most youth. Hence the title change.

Amish Carriage Buck Insignia
Photo by ShipshewanaIndiana

As far as change in the Amish youth culture in seven years, I have found significant changes in many communities. The most significant, by far, is the challenge of smartphones and the Internet. When I wrote my first book, I devoted exactly one sentence to cell phones and the youth. Now, great numbers of youth, especially in the large settlements, are on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and my hope is to live long enough to see how, and if, this Electronic Rumspringa, as I call it, will impact the future values and behaviors of the rumspringa-generation Amish.

What were some of the challenges you faced in learning about Amish youth on the Internet?

After my Johns Hopkins editor, Greg Nicholl, contacted me about a newspaper article he read on Amish youth hitching up to Facebook, I decided to study Amish youth and social media. My first challenge was to become familiar with American pop culture so that I knew the Internet rumspringa Amish youth were talking about or participating in. As a professor who retired in 2005, I had pretty much ignored social media and entertainment developments. I did know a bit about Facebook, but I needed the help of a young faculty member to get on and accept “friends.” Suddenly, in my research, I was faced with entertainment or communication options I knew very little about, e.g., Pandora, Hulu, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, iPods, iTunes, etc., etc.

In seeing their publicly posted photos, available on most Amish Youngie Facebook sites, I also learned about hand signals, duck faces, tankinis, board shorts, beer pong, and a multitude of texting acronyms. I was definitely not ROTFL (Rolling on the floor laughing). I learned also about their favorite movies, television programs, and music, most of which I had never heard about but was available through their smartphones, and all in the public domain.

How I was able to determine who had grown up Amish, who had left or was in the process of leaving the Amish, and who had Amish names but belonged to the conservative but not Old Order Amish Spring Garden or Beachy Amish church must wait for another conversation—or reading the book.

Which technology or aspect of life do you think is hardest for Amish youth to give up on joining the church?

My sense from my talking with Amish adults and youth is that the smartphone/ Internet will be the hardest thing to give up for many. They believe that one reason is that it is so addictive, and another reason is that it is so easy to hide. One of my committed Amish adult friends said that he had significant difficulty “putting it away” after he worried about the example he was setting for his children and others. Also, I see names of young Amish acquaintances on Facebook who have joined the church but are still active users. (I know of no Amish churches, with the possible exception of Ohio’s New New Order Amish, who would permit or condone Facebook use by members).

I can say with certainty that the control of computers, and especially smartphones and the Internet, are by far the greatest concern among ministers and parents today. The other thing that is hard for many young men to give up, albeit not technological, is league sports—softball, hockey, basketball, etc. But enough for today. Let’s continue this next week, Erik, with other questions from you and from Amish America readers.

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    1. Carol

      "breaking the spirit"

      Long ago, maybe in the 1970s or 80s I subscribed to Family Life and remember reading, in several instances, the need to “break the spirit” of children. This term was such a turn-off to my way of thinking about discipline and I didn’t renew my subscription. Several years ago I again subscribed but I have not noticed this term being used and just wonder if it is a common belief among the Amish or if the term means something different to them than it does to we English.

      1. Breaking the spirit...

        Carol, I can not speak to the Amish article you mentioned, nor specifically to what the Amish think on the subject. But I can say that the idea of “breaking the spirit” is in fact a Biblical concept and Biblical terminology. King David, after being faced with his sins, in Psalm 51 pours out his heart before God saying, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psa 51:17) According to David, such a broken spirit is a good thing; and I dare to think that the terminology of this very passage was possibly the basis for the work that you mentioned.

        The idea of “spirit” here no doubt refs to one’s self-direction and self-will — whether it is pliable to God’s instruction or rebellious to such. It can be — and should be — debated as to whether the term still conveys the same nuances today, lest we find ourselves implying something to today’s audience that the Bible does not intend. But even so, I don’t think we can fault the writers for their use of the term since it is a Biblical term and not doubt used among a people that would understand the term within its Biblical meaning.

        1. Naomi Wilson

          Romans 6

          The same is taught in the New Testament. Romans chapter 6 explains very clearly.

          “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”

          “Knowing this, that the old man is crucified with him, that that body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”

          “Likewise reckon also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

          If you are truly born again, you find yourself to be dead to the world and wishing to live only to follow Christ. In other words, being completely yielded to God’s will. Hopefully, parents will follow scripture in raising their children, not only providing firm and loving guidance, but also demonstrating a living example of brokenness or yielded-ness to God’s will. A parent who is very familiar with scripture will understand that only the Holy Spirit can or should break the will of even the most well-raised children.

    2. Mark - Holmes Co.

      I’m not sure about “breaking the spirit,” but I have read articles & heard topics & discussions on “Breaking the WILL of a child WITHOUT breaking his spirit.”
      Breaking the “will” to me means teaching a child obedience and acceptance of authority. I don’t personally know anyone who would want to break the “spirit” of a child — our future depends on people with creative minds, determination, interests in the community and the world around us, and so on, but breaking a “will” is important.
      The term “gelassenheit” is what comes to my mind. I once read in a book that means in English “the good of the community trumps the good of the individual.” When a child’s “will” is broken, he or she will accept teaching and guidance and correction. For me, I’m grateful my will was broken. It left me willing to listen to the counsel advice, and correction of those older than me and taught me to control my temper and impulsive behavior. I think of that kind of thing when I see children throwing temper tantrums or ignoring their parent’s requests.
      As for Family Life, a lot of people in Holmes Co. get it, including myself, but there is also a lot in it I don’t always agree with. It’s printed/ published in Aylmer and that small community has a very different way of life and outlook than many of the older & bigger American communities.

      1. Naomi Wilson

        Family Life versus other communities

        Mark, would you possibly be able to elaborate on some of those differences? Our family really enjoys reading Family Life. We have never subscribed, and are still working our way through ten years of hand-me-down issues from the ’90’s. It always helps me to have a positive attitude about some of the more challenging aspects of being a wife and mother, and our lifestyle is very similar, which I appreciate because our children can relate to the stories. I find the different ways that Amish people react to the publication to be quite interesting, and something that I don’t understand.

        1. Mark - Holmes Co.

          Aylmer, Ont. is very conservative in dress & technology, home furnishings, etc. but more advanced in some other areas, like they have Sunday school and Old Orders here in Ohio do not. They have a reputation for being very strict with morals and very isolated from the larger society.
          Unlike older communities here they have many families from many different Amish backgrounds that moved in there looking for “something better” but since many of those families had issues of their own that were pushing them towards “something better” they have a large number of family issues within such a small community. They also have an unusually high number of people living there that are of non-Amish background. Some joined from the outside, some from Old Colony or team-Mennonite backgrounds.

          1. Naomi Wilson

            Thank you for your response. I wonder how these communities will do, moving into the future. I continue to be fascinated. Time now to get away from the computer!

    3. Hey Erik -- techincal question...

      Erik, for some reason as this thread has now gone to 2 pages, the links I received in emails to newer entries are not finding their specific posts. It’s not like it’s a major problem for me, but thought I’d mention it in case it is a technical hiccup that needs attention.

      1. How to go right to the new comment

        That is an annoying quirk which I am aware of happening on other posts with many comments. Thanks for reminding me, I think it is a back-end issue. If I can find a solution will put it in place.

        For the time being, one solution is to just click on the link in the “Recent Comments” box on the right sidebar (the specific link should be visible if you come relatively soon after the comment is posted, as that box lists the last 12 comments).

        That link will take you right to the new comment. Sorry about the extra step.

        1. “a back-end issue” — sounds like the man who worked at the sawmill who backed into his saw…, and before he knew it he’d gotten behind in his work. (ha)

          FYI: The link to your 9:16 post (that I am responding to) worked just fine. I wonder if the problem may be the links to “page 1 posts” that get emailed out before there is a division in pages (?).

    4. Char N.

      I know I’m late and may have missed the contest, but I definitely will read your newest book! [I already have the older book]

      My question is whether any of the college courses you mentioned will be offered online.

      I would love to take those courses [and a PA Deitsch class] and would jump in and take them online if they were offered.

      Thank you.

    5. Don Curtis

      Mark's ideas

      My son, Mark, joined the Amish about twelve years ago. I read him some of these posts. He was quite interested. The church and community at Belle Center, Ohio although New Order Amish have taken a firm position against ownership of cell phones of any kind. On rare occasions when necessary they will use the cell phone of a driver when out on the road. Also, they have taken a strong position against computer use in business or home. Mark said that he feels that the Amish churches made a big mistake in ignoring the cell phones and internet use when they first started being picked up by the Amish. He is concerned where this will lead and is glad that Belle Center clamped down on this before it ever became an issue. Mark asked me to say, “Hello” to Rich Stevick who he met a year ago and hoped one of these days you will come to visit him when you are in Ohio. He lives about two hours from Holmes County.

      1. Richard Stevick

        Greetings to Mark, Don

        I clearly remember meeting Mark at the Amish conference held at E-town College in June. We had a chance to chat at breakfast. I’ve been wanting to visit Belle Center for a long time. Now that we live in OH should make it happen. Tell Mark I will definitely look him up when we are in his area. Also, I want to visit with Fruit Dan Miller who kept a student for me 20 years ago when I first started bringing students to Holmes County. Aus liebe, Rich

    6. Help to rebuild Forest View Lumber, the Amish sawmill in Montcalm County

      Please HELP to rebuild Forest View Lumber, the Amish sawmill in Montcalm County. Details:

    7. Professor Paul Schultz

      Do the Amish pay Federal Income Tax?

      I was wondering if the Amish pay Federal or other taxes since they do not become corporate property at birth like most Americans.

    8. Late question....

      I don’t know if Rich is still monitoring this thread, but even if not maybe Erik or others could help me out with some much-needed insight.

      Last week my wife and I took our vacation in Amish IN, mostly in Shipshewana. The lady (Englisch) that runs the bed & breakfast where we stayed was telling about some of the things that the Amish girl(s) that had worked for her would tell her. She said that sometimes Amish teens (sometimes a couple or multiple couples) would rent a motel room for a weekend, and a large part of the time was spend watching TV for hours on end. Apparently this is sometimes considered a weekend-long date, and this Amish girl even described it as “I’m his for the weekend.”

      I don’t know the lady that we stayed with outside of the couple of days that we were there, so I have no history to know one way or the other how dependable or accurate her story-telling is. I am certainly not suggesting that she’s stretching the truth, but I have to say that this kind of story (which was portrayed as not an unusual event) is more than a little hard to believe. So, my questions are…

      1. Is this kind of activity as off the wall as I want to think it is, or is the story accurate?

      2. If true, is it naivety on the Amish’s part of where this kind of activity can lead (a weekend alone in a motel room); or in the less-sexualized environment of the Amish can such a weekend get-away be kept on a non-sexual level that wouldn’t go against their Biblical teachings?

      Thanks for any help you can offer. This one is hard for me to wrap my mind around as being all that it was described to be.

      1. Mark - Holmes Co.

        Don, as the father of teenaged girls, I can tell you what MY take on this would be — NO WAY! I mentioned this to a non-Amish co-workers who felt just like I do.
        Have I heard of this? I have heard rumors of this kind of thing in other communities, but questioned just how true it is. I do not personally know anyone who did, but I have heard of motel rooms being rented to watch the Super Bowl or whatever, but I thought this was a group of youth. Again, it was just stuff I heard.
        Putting youth together in a hotel room like that is just asking for trouble no matter what church you belong to.

        1. Thanks Mark....

          Thanks for your response, Mark. What you said is what I *want* to believe to be the case — but having some confirmation really makes me feel better.

          And hey, if you happen to run into Willis or Kathy Miller (Farmstead B&B) over near Mt. Hope, tell them their MO friends say hi. 😉

    9. Marlene Strobel

      Craft Fair

      How do I get a table at the Ground Hogs fair in Pauxatawny, Pennsylvania that I seen on that Amish Show last Sunday evening?


      Marlene Strobel

    10. Guy

      Amish Women carrying fancy purses

      I live in Ohio and my wife and I seen few Amish Women carrying fancy purses? I thought they are trying to look plain Not having a English your girl purse?