If you're at all familiar with Amish youth, chances are you've heard the term "Amish Rumspringa." And I've been asked the question multiple times: "What is Rumspringa?"
When people discover my Amish upbringing, they often say to me, "Tell me about Rumspringa", or "Did you experience Rumspringa?"
The term Rumspringa has gained much attention through Amish romance novels and shows, sparking curiosity among observers who wonder how much of what they hear and watch about the Amish is true.
So hopefully today I can answer some of your questions about Amish youth and Rumspringa (Rumshpringa).
And for your information, "Rumspringa" is simply a PA Dutch word that means "running around".
When Amish teenagers reach the age of sixteen, they are typically allowed to join the youth group. (Some Amish groups call them gangs instead of youth groups.)
And in case you're unfamiliar with the term "youth group," it refers to an organization of young people who come together for social purposes, often under the sponsorship of a church or similar institution.
Some Amish areas have multiple youth groups. For example, in Lancaster County, with over 30,000 Amish residents, there are numerous Amish youth groups. (Some are more conservative than others.)
However, each individual church does not have its own dedicated youth group. Instead, these groups typically consist of youth from different churches (who fellowship with one another) within a specific geographic area.
So you may be wondering how teenagers decide which group to join. And while some individuals may struggle with this decision, most will choose to join the group where the majority of their friends are.
Amish youth groups are made up of unmarried individuals aged sixteen and above, continuing until they either get married or decide to discontinue their participation. Some groups even include older singles in their thirties who remain part of the youth group community.
Do All Amish Youth Practice Rumspringa?
The answer could be "Yes". But in regards to the wild Rumspringa you might be thinking of, the answer is "No".
Amish young people usually participate in a youth group. However, most Amish youths don't ever drive a car and experience Rumspringa in the way it is often portrayed.
And I am not trying to confuse you here, but the Amish often refer to the years a young person spends in the youth group as the "Rumspringa years", whether the youth is wild or not. So in Pennsylvania Dutch culture, the term "Rumspringa" refers to the period when a young person actively participates in the youth group.
And I believe that "Rumspringa" has only been portrayed as a negative thing through romance novels and Hollywood movies.
However, since most of you probably associate "Rumspringa" with wild Amish youth, we will continue to use the term in that context.
And while it is not uncommon for Amish youth to rebel and engage in activities that are not normally allowed in the church, many youths choose to abide by the rules and have no interest in experiencing the world and its practices.
I have many Old Order Amish cousins and only a few of them ever got a driver's license and went through what is commonly referred to as Rumspringa. And while some of the girls also get involved in worldly things, it is more common for the boys to get a driver's license and have drinking parties.
Since our group didn't practice wild Rumspringa, I can't speak on it from personal experience. (New Order Amish youths do not practice wild Rumspringa.)
However, I had cousins who did, and it was always interesting to observe the changes they went through during Rumspringa and then when they settled down to get married.
Rumspringa is simply a period of time when Old Order Amish teenagers, who are not yet church members, are allowed to explore the modern world before deciding whether they want to permanently join the Amish church. Some people also call it the Amish rite of passage.
During Rumspringa, they can dress in worldly clothes, drive cars, drink beer, have parties, date, install radios in their buggies, and have cell phones, among other things.
Is Amish Rumspringa Encouraged?
It is important to note that Rumspringa is not something that's encouraged. Amish parents want their children to obey the rules and behave morally. But while that is their desire for their children, they will not stop them from making their own choices.
Many Amish parents are greatly concerned and pray fervently for their children who go through Rumspringa. And they desperately hope that their child will soon decide to settle down and join the church.
And while some individuals may enjoy their newfound freedoms and choose not to be Amish, the majority eventually decide to join the church. They get married and are Amish for the rest of their lives.
How Long Does Rumspringa Last?
The duration of Rumspringa varies for each individual. Some may go through it for a short period, while others who enjoy the party lifestyle might continue until their early to late twenties when they find someone they want to marry.
To get married as an Amish person, you must be baptized and become a member of the church. So when a young man finds a girl he wants to marry, he'll decide to settle down. He gives up his car, starts wearing Amish clothes again, and gets an Amish-style haircut.
Upon choosing to embrace the Amish church, these individuals quickly transition from an appearance resembling modern English society to reverting back to the distinctive Amish style.
What Happens During Rumspringa?
While numerous Old Order Amish youths go through Rumspringa and engage in a few years of a more liberal lifestyle and parties, their experiences during this period can vary greatly.
Some of their experiences will vary depending on their parents. Most of these youth still live at home with their parents. And while they may hide some of their actions from their family, many parents are at least somewhat aware of what is going on.
Some Amish youth are allowed to park their vehicle at their home, others are asked to park them at a neighbor's place, etc.
During Rumspringa, they don't necessarily make friends outside the Amish community. They still tend to stick to their Amish friend groups and remain connected to the Amish community.
The difference lies in the fact that during Rumspringa, the youth are allowed to engage in activities like wearing modern clothing (including jeans and T-shirts), adopting new hairstyles, obtaining a driver's license, owning cars, and participating in weekend gatherings that involve drinking alcohol and other festivities.
What Activities Do Amish Youth Groups Participate In?
Amish youth groups have lots of fun activities such as picnics, volleyball, softball games, work bees, etc. However, there are two main activities that most Amish youths participate in on an almost weekly or biweekly basis.
The first one is the Sunday night youth singing. A family from the local church or youth group opens their home and invites the youth to gather for Sunday evening.
Sometimes it's the family that has hosted the Sunday morning church service. Since their home is already prepared, and they have the benches for church, it's easy to host the youth in the evening as well.
Typically the youth gather in the afternoon and play volleyball, which is the second activity I was talking about.
Volleyball is quite popular among Amish youth. Each group has a net and ball they take with them every Sunday. They set up the net between two buggies by tying it to the wheels and enjoy fun games of volleyball.
If the weather doesn't cooperate, they'll probably play indoor card games, etc.
The hosts serve dinner to the youth, followed by an evening of singing. (In our group, the singing lasted from 7 to 9 pm.)
Afterward, there's a small snack and time for fellowship before heading home. Dating couples usually leave soon after the singing and go to the girl's house for a date until around midnight.
(A few groups practice bed courtship, and if I'm not mistaken, I think they have their dates on Saturday night. But I'm not really familiar with that, and I think it is more or less a thing of the past, although there are a few groups who still practice it.)
Amish Youth Singings
During Sunday night singings in Lancaster County, the youth gather around a long table with additional benches arranged behind them. In some other areas, they sit facing each other on benches, similar to a church service.
The boys typically sit on one side while the girls occupy the other. (Parents are also welcome to join in if they wish.)
And given the setup where boys and girls face each other throughout the entire evening, it provides an opportunity for subtle observation of the opposite sex (a potential date). 😉
The level of proficiency in singing among members of Old Order communities, who often lack formal music training, may vary. Compared to more progressive Amish groups who have received a musical education, their singing may be considered less refined or technically polished. However, they prioritize participation and spiritual connection over technical excellence.
And during the singing session, anyone in the group can choose a song and take the lead or request someone else to lead it.
New Order Amish Youth Singing
I grew up as a New Order Amish, and our youth sang together a lot. Many of us had music classes in school and enjoyed learning new songs to sing in perfect four-part harmony.
Aside from Sunday night singings, we also had Bible Study every other Wednesday night. On the opposite Wednesday night, we often sang for older people or anyone who lost a loved one within the Amish community around us. Sometimes we sang for the elderly in nursing homes, etc.
We mostly sang English songs from Zion's Praises or Christian Hymnary songbooks, following the shaped notes. But we also sang many songs from memory. Especially when singing for individuals in their homes, or nursing homes.
YouTube Videos of Amish Youth Singing
Recently, I came across a YouTube video of Amish youth singing. (I believe they're probably New Order from Holmes County, Ohio) . And I wasn't prepared for the feeling of nostalgia that hit me while listening to it.
Our youth group spent many weekends in Holmes County with different youth groups in that area (they came to visit us as well). A vanload of our youth would pack up and spend a couple of days in Ohio. We played volleyball, sang together, and had lots of fun playing games, etc. late into the night.
I have many fond memories of those days spent with friends. And the Sunday night singings were always a highlight.
(I also found another YouTube video of what appears to be an Amish family or youth gathering where they are singing a song that we sang a lot.)
Why Do Most Amish Youth Decide to Join Their Church?
So while Rumspringa is a period of time when Amish youth are allowed to experience some worldly freedoms and make their own choices, most of them voluntarily choose to give it up and join the Amish church.
They decide to embrace the Amish way of life for several reasons.
Firstly, they have had an opportunity to explore the outside world and experience its offerings, which allows them to gain a deeper appreciation for their Amish heritage, values, and community.
Additionally, they value the close-knit bonds and support within the Amish community, the emphasis on family, and the shared commitment to traditional practices. This is what they have known all their lives, and it's their safe place.
Remaining close to their family is also a significant factor. If they were to leave the church, their family may not accept them as readily.
So ultimately, after weighing their experiences, personal beliefs, and priorities, they may feel that the Amish way of life aligns more closely with their desires and beliefs, leading them to make the decision to join the Amish community for life.
During Rumspringa, Amish youth enter a time of greater social activity.
Finding a life partner is one of the objectives of Rumspringa. It's during this time that Amish youth start dating, and many of them eventually establish a "special friend." The specific dating practices of Amish youth can differ from one community to another.
When it comes to dating, Amish youth often prefer to keep things low-key. The dating process usually kicks off when a young man offers to give a young lady a ride home after the Sunday night singing.
As the relationship progresses, couples may exchange letters and spend weekends together with the thought of eventually getting married. However, before any wedding plans are made, the parents' approval is necessary.
And many couples will share their engagement with a few family members but keep it a secret from others until only a few months (sometimes even only weeks) before their wedding.
The typical age of marriage in Amish communities is usually between eighteen and twenty-five. Girls tend to get married at a younger age than boys. And since Amish youth are not considered to be of age (an adult) until they are twenty-one, most boys wait till they are in their twenties to get married.