Amish Rumspringa: Testing The Waters Of Freedom

Amish Rumspringa has been sensationalized by the Media. TV presentations like The Devils Playground and Amish In The City make it appear that all Amish teens run amok before they join (or not) the church. Well, I guess that beer, drugs and sex have always made for great television.

The Amish use the word “Rumspringa” to describe the years between the passage into adulthood (age 16) and baptism into the church (usually age 18-22). During this period, the young adult is relatively free from parental control and not yet pledged submission to church rule.

A Stage

Rumspringa in the Amish German dialect simply means “running around”.

Now I don’t know about you, but back during the sixties when I was in my late teens, I did my share of running around. But I soon passed through that stage and got on with my life.

Many, many people in their late teens and early twenties go through a somewhat reckless stage of enlightenment. Most (but not all) of these eventually mature and end up leading responsible lives. It is the same in most cultures and it occurs generation after generation.

Birds of a Feather

“English” kids have always joined peer groups that reflect their values and moral teachings.

Conservative kids hang out with others on the same wavelength. This group tends to have a more docile transition from adolescence to maturity.

Wild kids group together and have a wild time.

Certainly, as in the outside world, there are always going to be some rebellious Amish kids. The Amish are subject to the whole range human emotions just like the rest of us. And when Amish kids reach official adulthood,they suddenly have a sense of freedom that is new and exciting.

It is only human nature to want to spread your wings, test the waters, and sometimes push the envelope. But in the Amish culture a smaller percentage of the youth actually rebel and flaunt church rules.

Unlike the outside world, where a high percentage of kids grow up with little or no church background, every Amish child has been raised in an intensely strong church environment. Making choices according to deeply ingrained church teachings, a vast majority of Amish teens pass through a relatively tame period of running around.


Contrary to popular media myth, Amish Rumspringa is not a time when Amish parents encourage their teens to get out and experience all that the world has to offer. Did your parents encourage you to go out to wild parties, drink, smoke, and sow your wild oats?

Amish Rumspringa is not a church sanctioned custom.

However, in many Old Order congregations the church leaders and parents tend to turn a blind eye to the questionable activities.

In the more liberal congregations, such indulgences as buying a car or having a radio in your buggy are sometimes written off as youthful exuberance. After all, Amish Rumspringa is just a passing stage that you will outgrow.

And Intolerance

In the ultra conservative groups like the Swartzentruber Amish, you do not openly flaunt the rules when you come of age.

If you are genuinely rebellious member of this ultra-conservative group, you sneak out after everyone is asleep. You might meet up with some fellow rebels and go to “English” parties to dance, and imbibe in worldly pleasures. You might even secretly stash some beer, cigarettes or a transistor radio in the barn.

But your conservative parents will not turn a blind eye to your infractions of church rules.

If you are a Swartzentruber and your transgressions are discovered, you can expect to be confronted and scolded by your parents. You can also count on being visited by a minister who will admonish you for the error of your ways.

A Fact Of Life

All of us who live past puberty pass through our own time of discovery between adolescence and maturity. It is all part of growing up. We can’t avoid it and neither can the Amish.

All Amish, conservative or liberal, are going to pass through this stage in life.

If you’re in the ultra-conservatives and probably most other Old Order Amish groups, your behavior during running around will be within the boundaries of your strong church background.

The Illusion

The Amish are Anabaptists. This means that they believe that you can be baptized only when you are old enough to understand and freely choose baptism for yourself. They place a high value on this freewill choice.

The sense of freedom that blossoms during the period of Amish Rumspringa cultivates the illusion that you are free to choose to be baptized or not.

On the face of it, you are free to choose. In reality this is only an illusion.

Since the day you were born you have been continuously indoctrinated into a strong ethnic culture preparing you to be one thing…Amish.

Therefore, it is extremely hard to choose to leave the Amish society. The prospect of striking out on your own into a completely different culture with little or no money and only an 8th grade education is extremely discouraging.

If you choose to forgo baptism and leave the Amish community you will forfeit your social network of family and friends and your strong sense of belonging.

Only the strongest personalities with very strong reasons attempt to leave.


When you are go to the doctor for a vaccination, you are given a small dose of a disease to prevent you from being infected by that disease in the future.

Some Amish view Rumspringa as a vaccination against the outside world.

During this time you receive a small dose of the outside world in hopes that it will prevent future infection from worldly evils.

To Sum Up

Amish Rumspringa is not the wild free-for-all portrayed by the media. A very small percentage of Amish youth stretch this period to the extreme.

This small minority drives cars and parties hard. The vast majority drives horse and buggies and hardly parties.

Amish Rumspringa is simply a short period of time to experience the freedom of adulthood before making a lifetime commitment of submission to the Amish church.

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