Rumspringa (also Rumschpringe or Rumshpringa, derived from the Deitsch term for "running around" ) generally refers to a period of adolescence for members of the Amish, a subsect of the Anabaptist Christian movement, that begins around the age of sixteen and ends when a youth chooses baptism within the Amish church or instead leaves the community. [Shachtman pp 10-11] The vast majority choose baptism and remain in the church. [Shachtman pp 14] Not all Amish use this term (it does not occur in Hostetler's extended discussion of adolescence), but in sects that do, Amish elders generally view this as a time for courtship and finding a spouse. [Shachtman pp 14]

Popularized view

As is the case in many societies, Amish adolescents may engage in rebellious behavior, resisting or defying parental norms. In many cultures, enforcement may be relaxed, and misbehavior tolerated or overlooked to a degree. A view of "rumspringa" has emerged in popular culture that this divergence from custom is an accepted part of adolescence or a rite of passage for Amish youth. Among the Amish who use this term, however, "rumspringa" simply refers to adolescence. During that time a certain amount of misbehavior is unsurprising and is not so severely condemned (for instance, by "Meidung" or shunning). Adults who have made a permanent and public commitment to the faith would be held to the higher standards of behavior defined in part by the Schleitheim and Dordrecht confessions [Bowman, pp 75] . In a narrow sense the young are not bound by the Ordnung because they have not taken adult membership in the church. Amish adolescents do remain however under the strict authority of parents who are bound to "Ordnung", and there is no period when adolescents are formally "released" from these rules. [Hostetler pp 154] [Igou pp 165-166] [Nolt pp 105]

A minority of Amish youth do diverge from established customs. [Shachtman pp 13] Some may be found: [Shachtman pp 10-11]
* Wearing non-traditional clothing and hair styles
* Driving vehicles instead of horse drawn buggies (for communities that eschew vehicles)
* Not attending home prayer
* Drinking, smoking, and/or drug use

In Anabaptist belief, it is essential for adults to enter baptism knowingly and informed, and that could mean being informed concerning life outside the strict Amish culture. [Shachtman pp 27-30] Not all youth diverge from custom during this period; approximately half in the larger communities and the majority in smaller Amish communities remain within the norms of Amish dress or behavior during adolescence. [Shachtman pp 13]

Leaving the community

Some Amish youth do indeed separate themselves from the community, even going to live among the "English", or non-Amish North Americans, experiencing modern technology and perhaps even experimenting with sex, drugs, and alcohol. Their behavior during this time represents no necessary bar to returning for adult baptism into the Amish church. Most of them do not wander far from their family's homes during this time, and large numbers ultimately choose to join the church. However this proportion varies from community to community, and within a community between more acculturated and less acculturated Amish. For example, Swartzendruber Amish have a higher retention rate than the New Order Amish within the Holmes County, Ohio communityFact|date=March 2007. This figure was significantly lower as recently as the 1950s, Hostetler (102-05) provides evidence that desertion from the Amish community is not a long-term trend, and was not less of a problem in the early colonial years.


As among the non-Amish, there is variation among communities and individual families as to the best response to adolescent misbehaviour. In some cases, patience and forbearance prevail, and in others, vigorous discipline. Far from an open separation from parental ways, the misbehaviour of young people during the "rumspringa" is usually furtive, though often collective (this is especially true in smaller and more isolated populations; the larger communities are discussed below). Groups of Amish adolescents may meet in town and change into "English" clothing, and share tobacco, alcohol and marijuana; girls may put on jewelry and cosmetics. They may or may not mingle with non-Amish in these excursions. The age is marked normatively in some Amish communities by allowing the young man to purchase a small "courting buggy," or - in some communities - by painting the yard-gate blue (traditionally meaning "daughter of marriageable age living here"; the custom is noted by A.M. Aurand in "The Amish" (1938) along with the reasonable caution that sometimes a blue gate is just a blue gate). There is some opinion that adolescent rebellion tends to be more radical, more institutionalized (and therefore in a sense more accepted) in the more restrictive communities.

The nature of the "rumspringa" period differs from individual to individual and from community to community. In large Amish communities like Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Holmes County, Ohio, and Elkhart and LaGrange Counties, Indiana, the Amish are numerous enough that there exists an Amish youth subculture. During the "rumspringa" period, the Amish youth in these large communities will join one of various groups ranging from the most rebellious to the least. These groups are not divided across traditional Amish church district boundaries. In many smaller communities, Amish youth may have a much more restricted "rumspringa" period due to the smaller size of the communities. Likewise, they may be less likely to partake in strong rebellious behaviour since the anonymity offered in the larger communities is absent.

According to Donald B. Kraybill and James Hurd a mild form of "rumspringa" is practised among Wenger Old Order Mennonites when they turn 17.


The word, literally meaning "running around", in Pennsylvania German, is a contraction of "rum", an adverb meaning "around" (also used as a separable prefix as in the case of "rumschpringe"), and the verb "schpringe", meaning "to run" or "to skip."

The word "rumspringa" is closely related to the standard German word "herumspringen", although the "rum" has more of the meaning of "around" than "about". Omitting the "he" syllable leaving only the "rum" is widely accepted in colloquial German and does not change the meaning of the prefix. The modern German word "springen" means "to jump" and bears no meaning in the form of "to run" anymore. In Swiss German as in some German dialects, "springe" however does - besides meaning "to jump" - also mean "to run". In modern German "to skip" would rather be translated with the verb "hüpfen". The German noun "Herumspringen" (literally "to jump around") correlates with the Pennsylvanian German word "rumschpringe", describing a state of change or unrest, but bears no correlation to the Amish custom of "rumschpringe".

Popular culture

As evidenced by the sources below, popular culture and the media have cultivated the idea that the Amish deliberately countenance adolescent rebellion. Perhaps the belief validates a cherished notion of Amish wisdom, but tolerance for deviation from norms is not counted a virtue among the Amish. In interviews, Amish have shown themselves to be aware of these misconceptions and are by turns bewildered and amused.

"Rumspringa" is the subject of the film documentary "Devil's Playground". Director Lucy Walker gained unprecedented access to research and film inside the previously closed community, and this documentary film first investigated and publicized this phenomenon. The documentary film has proved extremely popular and gained many accolades including being nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary as well as three Emmy Awards (Best Documentary, Best Editing, Best Cinematography). Spin-offs from "Devil's Playground" include a book of Walker's transcribed interviews ' and a UPN reality television series "Amish in the City". Following the release of "Devil's Playground", the practice has also been the subject of plotlines on the TV shows "ER", "Grey's Anatomy", "Las Vegas", "Strong Medicine", "Cold Case", "My Name Is Earl", and "Judging Amy", as well as being a part of the "Abram's Daughters" series of novels from Beverly Lewis. A 2002 "Oprah" episode had as its subject "rumspringa" and "Devil's Playground" and featured director Lucy Walker and film subject Emma Miller. The ABC television network showed a documentary on the subject in June 2008 as part of their ' documentary series.


*Hostetler, John A. Amish Society. 4th ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993,
*Igou, Brad, ed. The Amish in their Own Words: Amish Writings from 25 Years of Family Life Magazine. Scottsdale, PA and Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1999
*Nolt, Steven M. A History of the Amish. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 1992.
*Shachtman, Tom. Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish. New York: North Point Press (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 2006. [Based on research for the documentary The Devil's Playground]
*Bowman, Carl Desportes. Brethren Society: The Cultural Transformation of a Peculiar People, 1995 ISBN 0-80184-9055

External links

*imdb title|id=0293088| title=Devil's Playground
* [ National Geopraphic Devil's Playground: Amish Rumspringa]
** [ NatGeo's Devil's Playground: Amish Rumspringa Video footage]
** [ NatGeo's Devil's Playground: Amish Rumspringa Photos]
** [ NatGeo's Devil's Playground: Amish Rumspringa select photos with explanations]
* [ "Notes On Completing Devil's Playground" essay by director Lucy Walker]
* [ Variety review of Devil's Playground by Dennis Harvey]
* [ NPR piece on "Devil's Playground"]
* [ Review of "Amish in the City"]
* [ Oprah episode "Rumspringa: A Tradition for Amish Teenagers"]

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