The Amish culture is known for its simple, God-fearing way of life. Most members of the Amish community do not use electricity, phones, computers or cars, and with one exception, it is a lifelong commitment. That exception is during the teenage years. From approximately 16 to 20 years of age, male and female Amish teens are released from their obligation to follow Amish customs. This period is called Rumspringa, which means "running around," and is designed to allow teens who so choose to experiment in the "English" world, then decide which culture they want to commit their lives to, according to the article, "Not So Plain and Simple, the Life of an Amish Teen," at Religiontranscends.com. During this period, many Amish teenagers live in much the same way as non-Amish teens live.
Amish Teenager Background
Until they enter the Rumspringa period, Amish teens follow Amish customs. They are expected to attend a community worship service every other Sunday in the home of a community member, according to the Religiontranscends.com article. Also, they are expected to avoid being photographed, they wear plain clothing and do not listen to music. Teen Amish females wear plain, long dresses. Males wear plain clothing that will allow them to work in factories or on the family farm.
Formal education for the Amish ends after eighth grade. At that point, students leave school so boys can assist with family farms or factory positions, and girls can work in Amish shops and learn to keep house and prepare for when they are married. Most Amish schools are one-room school houses, where students of all grade levels share one teacher. Four to five students are typically in each grade level.
When Amish teens turn 16 they enter Rumspringa and are released from all Amish expectations. For the next four years, they are allowed to skip church, wear trendy clothing including jeans, and dabble in the typical English teen lifestyle. It is the only time an Amish teen is allowed to drink alcohol, take drugs and have sex without being shunned by the Amish community, according to an article at NPR.com. For the first 16 years, teenagers are groomed to be Amish. Then the community sets them free to try forbidden pleasures for the next four years and at about 20 years of age, they decide whether to come back into the Amish lifestyle for good or walk away and live their lives among cell phones, cars, electricity and other modern conveniences.
About 85 percent of all Amish teenagers choose to join the Amish church for life after the Rumspringa period, according to the NPR article. Some teens get into legal trouble along the way and end up in criminal court. Others might find themselves the unwed mother of a half English-child. Some teens continue to attend church and live by Amish customs during the Rumspringa period. Regardless of what teenagers do during this period, if at the end of it they join the church, all is forgiven. If, however, the teenager chooses to turn away from Amish obligations and instead go out into the world with cars, cell phones and electricity, that teenager is shunned for life from the community. His own parents and siblings will never again speak to him.