Rumspringa, The Amish Rite of Passage

 

 

Have you heard of the Amish rite of passage known as “Rumspringa” before? Essentially, this is a time when parents allow their young children (usually age 16) to leave the walls of the Amish community and see what outside life is like. After they’ve experienced it, they’ll have to make a choice as to whether or not they want to continue living the Amish lifestyle.

Let’s take a closer look at Rumspringa and also how this tradition is changing in modern times. 

 

What is Rumspringa?


The word Rumspringa literally translates to “running around” in Pennsylvania German. During this time, children are given the opportunity to experiment with non-traditional Amish life. For instance, they may visit a neighboring town, wear everyday clothing, use modern technology such as cars and cell phones, and even drink or party with non-Amish individuals.

 

Young couple using a cellphoneIf you’re familiar with the strict Amish lifestyle, then you can probably see how this a complete 180 in their traditional beliefs. The Amish are a very tight-knit community, which puts strict limitations on the use of technology and where individuals can and cannot go. Life among the Amish is focused around worshiping God, maintaining the family and serving the community.

 

Parents and the elders oftentimes overlook the behavior that children engage in during Rumspringa. They believe that everyone should experience the outside life before making decisions as to whether or not they want to live an Amish lifestyle.

 

Due to the fact that the individuals aren’t Baptized yet, children are not yet under the church authority. Technically, this is part of the reason they are given a pass on experimenting with activities that are typically shunned in the Amish community.

 

What kinds of behaviors can occur during Rumspringa? They include everything from drinking and using drugs to driving vehicles.  In the Amish community, of course, only horse drawn carriages are permissible. Some groups even go to bars and nightclubs in the area. Youngsters also wear regular clothes and hairstyles. They refer to this practice as “dressing English.”

 

underage youth drinking and drivingThe behavior that takes place during Rumspringa depends to some extent on the person and the community as well. Many continue to live with their families during this period of time and the behavior is far less extreme. As a result, they will still attend Sunday singings and engage in tamer activities like bowling during their Rumspringa period. It’s important to realize that Rumspringa doesn’t always translate to “going wild.”

 

 

How Long Does Rumspringa Last?

Each community has it’s own rules regarding Rumspringa, but it usually lasts for around 2 years. During this time, the adolescent is allowed to live outside of the community without Amish restrictions. After that time is up, he or she must return to the community and make a decision.

 

Rumspringa in the Social Media Age

Access to sites like Facebook has completely transformed Rumspringa for youngsters. Today, there is a major focus on the internet and texting. People say that for a social life during this period, access to Facebook is a necessity. Apparently, Amish teens use it even more than the non-Amish.

 

What makes Rumspringa different due to social media? First of all, it’s much easier for youngsters to meet one another and socialize with other Amish people. Dating can take place far more easily, not only through Facebook, but also through sites like Meetme.com.

 

They organize huge parties largely of Amish attendees and people from other communities can attend. As it turns out, the Amish teens prefer to socialize with other teens from similar communities.

 

After Rumspringa

 

If the individual decides to continue living the Amish lifestyle after returning to the community, he or she will be baptized by the elders and must adhere to the Ordnung from that day forward. If they decide to leave the community after being baptized, they’re shunned from the community and asked to never return. This stance is considered to be an act of love.

 

Ultimately, most youngsters decide to stay in their community and get Baptized. Some estimates say this number is about 90% of Amish.

 

Media Surrounding Rumspringa

RuspringaIf you are interested in learning more about this Amish tradition, there are some interesting TV shows and books on the subject. For example, Amish Snow by Roger Rheinheimer is an interesting book that covers one individual’s experience with Rumspringa. There is also Tom Shachtman’s book Rumspringa: To Be or Not To Be Amish, which was published in 2006.

 

There is also a controversial 2002 documentary about Rumspringa entitled Devil’s Playground. This film was nominated for 3 documentary Emmy Awards. Further, the reality tv show Amish in the City covered Amish youngsters and follows them during Rumspringa.

 

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding Rumspringa and what happens during this rite of passage. You might think that a large number of adolescents choose to leave their Amish lifestyles behind after Rumspringa, but, as stated above, this usually isn’t the case. Instead, most return to their community where they’re baptized and continue to live among the Amish for the rest of their life. While the Amish certainly live a strict lifestyle, most enjoy the closeness of their families and community.


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