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Rumspringa. Popular culture portrays this rite of passage as Amish youth leaving their homes and doing wild and crazy things.
Despite what you may see on television, these youth are the exception.
In reality, the term refers to a limbo period in every Amish life when they are entering adulthood.
During this period the youth are given more freedoms to experience cultures outside their own.
The Amish complete Rumspringa because they want every member of their churches to be a fully committed participant.
As with teenagers in every culture, they reach a point when they leave the routine of their parents and begin their own.
The youth group activities offer one of the first opportunities for the youth to leave their parent’s home in the evenings.
Each youth has the free will to either attend these meetings or to spend their time somewhere else.
Some youth on Rumspringa may choose to spend the evenings with their friends exploring outside cultures.
Others choose to attend the youth group with other teens of their community.
The youth may choose to wear trendy clothing such as blue jeans, but their actions betray their deeply rooted connection to the Amish community.
They may know all about the latest celebrity gossip, but they still speak to each other in Pennsylvania Dutch and talk about events and people from their community.
When there is a barn fire within the Amish community, neighbors, family and church members turn out to rebuild the barn.
If something like this were to happen, the youth on Rumspringa would be on hand to help as well because even though they are trying different cultures, they still identify with and are a part of the community.
Buying a cell phone, taking driving lessons or going to see a movie in the theater are some of the more common adventures.
Through the increased tourist traffic in Holmes County, the influence of technology has changed Rumspringa for today’s Amish teenagers.
The youth are not under the control of the church because they are not members.
Generally, when the Amish youth participate in Rumspringa they remain within the home of their parents and under their influence.
“You have to pick your battles,” says one Amish father.
“Forcing a teenager doesn’t always work in practice.
” The parents may not like their child wearing English clothes, but complete control over a child is virtually impossible.
Even though the youth are given this period of time to explore they are still expected to continue their responsibilities.
The youth are not encouraged to spend their days idle, leaving the evenings and weekends for explorations.
In some instances the individual may decide to join the church through baptism right away and then there are those who will take years to decide.
There have been occasions when a youth will be on Rumspringa well into their 30’s and then decide to join the church.
Members of the Amish community have found that girls typically decide to be baptized before boys and generally between the ages of 17 and 21.
Boys tend to join the church between 19 and 23.
At this point they have become a full member of their church and the community.
Because the individuals on Rumspringa are not members of the church they are not going against any vows by leaving.
In fact, youth may leave, saying they do not wish to join the church, but if they change their mind several years later, the community will embrace them.
There are members of the Amish community who would eliminate the practice of Rumspringa due to the negative connotations associated with the event.
Then there are others who believe the practice is a good idea because it allows the youth to make an educated decision about their future.
Those who are for Rumspringa draw attention to the high retention rate for the Rumspringa participants.
Charles E. Hurst and David L. McConnell reported a retention rate of 83 percent in their An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community published in 2010.
From the numbers it is clear only a few individuals decide to leave the Amish community at the time of their Rumspringa.
There are those youth who do experiment with wild behaviors and illegal activities and even though these youth are the minority their actions have captivated audiences all over the country.
The parents of Amish teenagers on Rumspringa do not condone harmful or illegal activity of their children and if they know about it they generally make it known to the child they do not approve.
Many in the community, though, are not willing to take the choice away from the youth in regards to finding their own way to the Amish faith.
Far from the wild Amish teenagers visiting the city and participating in harmful or illegal activities, the common form of Rumspringa is very tame.
Rumspringa was created to enhance voluntary participation within the church.