Thanks to reality TV and the media’s insatiable need to sensationalize, rumspringa is one of those Amish words that conjure up some wrong impressions, including the image of Amish teens behaving badly. Although I don’t consider myself an expert on all things Amish, and I realize that it’s a mistake to generalize about their lifestyle, I also believe that the majority of Amish teens are not much like the kids on these TV shows, which thrive on showing so-called Amish kids experimenting with alcohol, drugs, and sex. In other words: rumspringa gone wrong.
But because I write for teens, I was naturally curious about this whole rumspringa thing. I knew that the word literally means “running around” and that Amish teens are encouraged to play and explore the “bigger” world in the hopes that the teens will grow disillusioned with a chaotic, no-rules lifestyle and eagerly return to their Amish roots, get baptized, join the church, marry, have children, and participate in their community. After all, that’s why the Amish are still growing and thriving today.
So what really happens during rumspringa? As I mentioned, this is a period of time when rules are set aside. Kids are done with schooling after eighth grade and most of teens will be helping at home or apprenticing for a job. But their free time is their own. They can go hang with their friends, attend organized youth functions or sports events or concerts or whatever. Some Amish teens will experiment with alcohol and tobacco. And some teens will exchange their Amish clothes for Englisch fashions.
Although Amish parents accept rumspringa as a fact of life, it must be a bit unsettling to see the child you’ve raised so carefully suddenly running free. I’m sure they must wonder—will the child just keep running…or eventually come home and settle down? In fact, it’s probably something that most parents of adolescents must ask themselves at some point in time.
Proverbs 22:6 says: “Teach your children right from wrong, and when they are grown they will still do right.” (CEV) I think this centuries-old advice is as true for the Amish as for any of us. It gives me hope. And when it’s all said and done, it’s reported that four out of five Amish teens return to their roots after rumspringa is over.
Melody Carlson has written more than 200 books (with sales around 6.5 million) for teens, women and children. Her novels range from serious issues like schizophrenia (Finding Alice) to lighter topics like house-flipping (A Mile in My Flip-Flops). Her young adult series (Diary of a Teenage Girl, TrueColors etc.) appeal to teenage girls around the world. Her most recent book is My Amish Boyfriend, which released in February of 2014.
She’s won a number of awards including Romantic Time’s Career Achievement Award, the Rita and the Gold Medallion.
Carlson has two grown sons and makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.
Purchase Melody’s books here.
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