Researching Rumspringa

A college student, preparing a paper about the Amish, read my blog and emailed me with questions. Thought I'd share some of her curiosity with you.

Her Question: What are the main types of Amish? From what I gather, there's the new order & the old order. Are the Old Order more traditional & the New Order more progressive?
The Swartzentruber Amish (who you focus on in your blog) are from the Old Order & are very conservative. Are they the biggest group? It's all very confusing to me. 

My Answer: There are more than 40 documented orders of Amish. Each with their own Ordnung and Bishop. Amish refer to their orders as "higher" to "lower" depending upon the strictness of rules. The Swartzentruber order is the lowest order - very punitive. Swartzentrubers are lower than OOA (old order Amish).

That led her to reiterating the rumspringa question . . .

Do all the Amish participate in rumspringa? Could this be an element of the controversy about the cast of Breaking Amish & the rumors that they had already left the Amish? Maybe people thought they left the Amish earlier, but they were actually in rumspringa?


I've had Swartzentruber and OOA tell me they never heard of the word until they left and watched TV programs about Amish.  Actors on these "reality" shows are paid & sign a confidential clause. One gal, I personally know, who did a few episodes of Amish Mafia received a lot of criticism from her former-Amish peeps. On either show, most had left Amish (or Mennonite) before casting directors signed them onto the show. 

What acts will get a person shunned?

Depends upon the order. In the Swartzentruber, something as minor as laughing in church gets one in trouble. Monroe was shunned for two weeks, by his mom, for trimming his Dutch Boy haircut too short - his earlobes were showing.

When a person is shunned, does the church expect their family not to talk to them at all? I noticed in Breaking Amish some families still talked to the shunned person briefly while others would not talk to them at all. Is it a difference in the churches or the families?

Shunning is complex. I suggest you read my post Shunning, What's it All About? 

It seems like many of the Amish rules & traditions they present on Breaking Amish are true to life. Do you agree with that, & if not, what do you believe is not factual about Amish culture?

Truthfully, I've watched Breaking Amish twice - once was with my son-in-law who is former Swartzentruber Amish. He was offended at the false information & wanted me to protest to the producers. Amish Mafia is another scripted "reality" show - the main character "Lebanon Levi" had been English (non-Amish) before this show signed him.

I noticed that you referred to Breaking Amish as fiction. Do you believe the entire show is fictional or just certain aspects of it? If just certain aspects, which parts do you believe are fake & why?

Since I've watched it only twice, I'm not qualified to pick apart each episode. Many of my former-Amish peeps think it's rubbish, and that the show makes Amish look stupid, and all former-Amish as wild and combative. I will say that there are various Amish orders, and this show doesn't make that fact clear to the viewing public.

Next week
, I've the expert on Rumspringa! Return and read psychology professor Richard Stevick's guest post revealing his studies of Amish youth and Rumspringa. (I've frequently explained that the uber strict Swartzentruber Order doesn't use this term nor excuse their youth for a year of "running around.") You'll be surprised what Professor Stevick has discovered. And you can buy his NEW BOOK Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years.

(C)Copyright, 2015, Brenda Nixon.


  1. I love these questions. I am also looking forward to Stevick's article next week.

    1. Thanks Katie. He has a different perspective on Rumspringa due to his years of research in orders other than the reclusive Swartzentrubers.

    2. I really feel for people who get their information from "reality television" and mind you there are many who fall into that category. I constantly read where people ask questions based on what they see on these shows. On the upside, I'm glad this person came to you and that you are able to give them factual information instead of fictional information.

    3. I know, right? I'm glad this person at least tried to explore to find factual information. America's fascination with the Amish befuddle me, I neither romanticized nor criticized the Amish back when a bunch of former Amish entered my life and learning curve.
      Thanks for your comments Dali.

  2. I have watched a few of these shows...All I can do is set and laugh at them, because if I let them I would be so mad...They are all trash, just made to get viewers..

  3. A great way to answer future questioners, like this student, would be to refer them to books you trust. That Stevick book is a good example. The rigor and level of detail offered by quality books is hard to match any other way.

    A writer named Tom Shachtman wrote a whole book dedicated to, and named, Rumspringa.

    There's also a whole book just about Swartzentrubers. It's titled Plain Secrets, written by Joe Mackall.

    Did I already mention these books in a comment on a previous blog entry? I apologize for repeating myself, if so. I often forget what I write, soon after writing it.

    1. Thanks Erik. My book is about Swartzentrubers and a couple conservative Old Order Amish.
      And I don't think you've repeated yourself - so what if you did :-)