Rumspringa-Myths and Reality
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.
Another myth: All communities practice the same version of “Rumspringa.” Most of them practice it exactly as you describe. A few of them practice it more liberally. Good post!
I wish other Christian groups had a rumspringa! It would make it a lot easier to raise the young ones. We don’t have any way to get young people together at the partner-selecting age except throwing them out into the world to date. Sure, the churches have youth groups ad summer camps, but often the emphasis is on the boys and girls NOT getting together. The Amish rumspringa is much healthier, and more conducive to finding a lifelong partner.
I speak from my experience 35 years ago in a strict Baptist church. We had roller skating parties rather than dances, summer camp, and Sunday night youth meeting. The “cool kids” with “cool” parents (even Baptists can be concerned about cool) would not attend any of these, so they seemed pretty lame. I married outside the church, and never went back, joining first the Lutherans and then the Anglican Church.
I agree with Monica – it’s different in different places. It seems teens can be teens (good or bad) no matter what their religion and I’d be pretty surprised to find a parent who encourages bad behavior. I can see the myth in that. My teens do things I don’t want them to but it’s not because I “let” them, believe me.
A friend from church grew up in Indiana and said when he was a teenager he lived for the weekends and the Amish parties, but possibly the next settlement over it was cool as a cucumber, and he only saw one part. I think at the end of the day, we’re just happy when they’re tucked in bed and pray that they find the Lord sooner rather than later.
I actually had a conversation about this with an Amish mom (with teens) in Jamesport, MO. We realized how alike we all are when it comes to raising teens – any many things for that matter. This is a good post because rumspringa is probably one of the most misconceived aspects of the Amish.
I left the old older mennonites,because i want to become a phcologchist
the mennonites dont allow education
Perhaps the old order Mennonites don’t, but the Mennonites in general encourage education! Old Amish however, don’t encourage education.
Mennonites Can Pursue Education
You’re confusing Amish with Mennonites, stephan. All Amish, whether they are Old Order or New Order, are Mennonites. However, not all Mennonites are Amish! Aren’t you aware of the various Mennonite colleges and universities? There’s Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, and Bluffton University in Ohio, and Canadian Mennonite University in Manitoba. And there’s Goshen College in Indiana, Tabor College in Kansas, Bethel College in Kansas, and other colleges in the USA and Canada. There are also Mennonite High Schools, including Central Christian School in Kidron, Ohio, near where I live.
Amish generally only attend school up to Grade 8. Occasionally, Amish may pursue a higher education, but they are most likely to leave the Amish church, if they do.
there are several amish communities here in central wisconsin, that DO NOT practice rumspringa in any form what so ever.
I love rumspringa kids, most of them have a cell phone or Facebook and it’s so much more easy to keep in touch with their families when you live in different continents…
There is an Amish settlement close to me, and no one ever mentions Rumspringa. However, its not uncommon to go to Wal-Mart and see Amish teens buying rock CD’s, looking through the movie posters, etc.. Before a friend’s wedding, we all went to the local kareoke (sp) bar, and were surprised to see some young Amish people there! They drank, played pool, etc., acted just like the rest of us and had a great time. I can only assume they were in Rumspringa, because the majority of Amish people in my area are very shy, stick the the food sections only of the store, and don’t encourage much conversation with strangers. Granted, this is just one settlement.
I think a good point which Beth and Monica make is that there is variety among settlements, which you also point to there at the end Sandy. I think Aaron also makes a good point that “bad behavior” is nothing Amish parents would want to encourage. But, it certainly can happen.
Adult supervision of Amish youth meetings
An Amish youth signing I attended a couple years back was with a parent-supervised group, and was a nice social event. Volleyball, a meal, and an hour or two of song followed by socializing. A nice positive atmosphere. Some smoking out in the barn, and I can’t say know how the evening finished (I showed my advanced age and turned in early), but the youth didn’t seem to have a problem with parents around–and after all, the choice of youth group is the individual youth’s, and some are known to be rowdier than others (though I imagine that parental pressure is there in some cases, like in many other families).
Magdalena I think you make a good point.
Yes, I’m sure according to their Ordnung their behaviour is “bad” indeed, but compared to the other teens around here, their behaviour is very wholesome. 🙂 I can’t imagine the Amish adults I’ve known EVER encouraging their kids to “experiment” during Rumspringa (if indeed they do practice it), but I can see where they might not be upset as much as they would be if they were doing those things after joining the church. Its interesting how much diversity there is in a group that on the outside appears so cohesive…
When we were at the farm of an Amish family in New Holland, Pa last summer the young lad we were talking to who was 18 and his sister 16 were telling us that in their youth group they always were watched over by one of the newly wed couples. There was always a form of supervision for their group. Each youth also has a name that they go by and if memory serves me correctly he told us they were part of the “Dragonflies” By there name you can tell home progressive or conservative the activities and level of supervision they will recieve.
I was shock to her that they will go on co-ed camping trips, trips to see national monuments as a co-ed group of course with supervision. He did say some of the more liberal groups will go camping or to the beach as co-ed units without supervision.
I think it is a neat time of their lives and just like any parent of a teen you HOPE your child will make smart choices, always knowing that there is the possibility of them not!
Enjoyed this post. It’s always a good day when I get to read a blog from Amish America. Hope your family time is fun, Erik!
Thanks Carolyn, it has been going well, visited my grandmother the past few days which was really a special and well-fed time 🙂
Im glad my kids are grown and I no longer have to go through the pains of teenagers! My church has youth gatherings where they go tubing down the river, water skiing, different things. Alot of the youth will hang out together in a group all through high school and beyond. They will come to a parents house to hang out together.
Later in the 20’s we have a young singles group where they get together for pot luck dinner’s volleyball, etc. and meet others. Some marry those they meet in this group.
I agree all parents of teenagers worry about the choices their kids will make, and hope they do make the right choices. Kids do sometimes have to learn the hard way, before they grow up.
This post was very interesting. I would love to hear about the other Amish groups that do not practice Rumspringa and how they go about having their youth meet, etc.
As the mother of three now twenty-somethings, I can sure tell you that NONE of them were thinking about, looking for, or even REMOTELY ready for marriage partners as teens, and currently STILL AREN’T. I can understand the socializing aspect, but NOT that.
Rumspringa-Myths and Reality
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