Rumspringa - a Perpetual Spring Break

Last week I answered curious question about the Amish - including Rumspringa - reminding readers that "my" Swartzentruber family and friends never heard the word until they left Amish. They did practice a "rite of adolescence" with more freedom, dating, smoking, and group sings but, they neither used the word nor left their settlement for a year of "running around."

This week I'm honored to host my friend Richard Stevick, former Messiah College psychology professor and avid researcher of Amish youth, in particular Rumspringa. His fascinating book is devoted to this famous - or infamous - period of Amish adolescence within higher orders.

Here's Richard  . . .  

Before the widely publicized 1998 drug bust in Lancaster County, PA, of young Amish men, virtually nobody but scholars (and some Amish) knew the word Rumspringa.

The word is electric. The publicized, stereotypical Rumspringa shows a perpetual spring breaklaced with hedonismrebellion, and license.
And some youth do follow this “fast track.”

The real Rumspringa, however, would never interest tabloid editors or other sensationalists.

Rumspringa for most youth (the majority) means increased freedom to socialize regularly with peers, date, join the Church, and marry. Those who do join the fast crowd eventually “return and settle down” to become faithful Amish church members, spouses, and parents.
After two decades studying this Amish teen phenomenon, here are some of my surprising findings:
• “Wild” Rumspringa more likely occurs in large settlements - Holmes/Wayne/Stark/Geauga Counties, OH; Lancaster County, PA; Elkhart-Lagrange Counties, IN  
                    • In my book, I propose that the increased numbers and density of Amish youth make it
                     easier for deviant or rebellious ones to find a "critical" mass to avoid accountability.
• Even when youth are acting out - driving cars, dressing English, and engaging in English behavior - they're almost always doing it with other Amish. Not with “worldly” English teens.
• Cars and excessive drinking doesn't necessarily equate with rejection of one’s Amish heritage. It more likely means, “I am doing crazy or unacceptable things, but I’ll eventually give it up and return to my family, church, and community.” Even being with other wayward Amish youth still reinforces their Amish identity and faith.
• Despite media portraits, most Amish adults say the current youth scene is more “decent” and respectful now than during their own Rumspringa or that of their parents! 
           Most parents attribute this positive change to the advent of the adult-supervised youth group movement started in Holmes County, Ohio, and spread to Lancaster County after the extensive 1990's drug bust. Many adults believe this adult involvement has         been the single most important movement to occur in the last two decades, a subject I       cover carefully.
• The single greatest concern among Amish bishops and parents today? The growing numbers of youth who own smart phones and who regularly frequent the Internet via these devices! For the teens - especially in the largest settlements - smart phone ownership is growing! Typically, youth estimate 25-50% of their friends are “wired.” I estimate at least 1,000 youth in each of the big three settlements are on Facebook.
In my book's last chapter, "The Future," and my Epilogue, I discuss the implication of having instant access to the "world" and to thousands of secular influences via the internet. I explore the possible effects these trends may have on joining the Church and in maintaining traditional Amish values. These, I consider, are the two most important sections of my book.

Too weighty or academic? I also write about lighter topics - volleyball and softball, turning sixteen, Sunday sings, trips to the mountains or to Florida, the electronic Rumspringa, Facebook, dating, joining the Church, courtship, and more. My interviews and relationships with hundreds of Amish youth and adults, taught me much. I know you will learn a lot from Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years

Readers, it's your turn. Got a question for Richard? Leave it below in the comments.

Contact Richard at Messiah College, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055 or rstevick@messiah.edu. 

(c)Copyright, 2015. Brenda Nixon.


  1. Interesting post, Richard. Thanks for sharing your insights gleaned from your years of study and interviews. I'm curious as to how Amish teens are able to obtain a smart phone and set up a cell service/data plan. The phone company would have to go to the settlement and lay the lines and towers, so it seems like the leaders would have to okay it. Any idea how this trend got started in the first place?

    1. Thanks Dianne. I'll answer until Richard has time to get on and address your question. His insight might be different than mine. The ones I know get a prepaid phone, or they charge up a phone at an English neighbor's home. Some Amish orders allow a phone shack at the edge of the property but, not this technology in the home.

  2. Thanks for posting this. Very informative...and sad. Praying!

  3. While visiting relatives in Amish areas -- Lancaster County, PA, and northwestern PA -- I've seen Amish teens playing volleyball. And sneaking cigarettes behind the grocery store! I can't imagine trying to keep them from technology and social media!

    1. Thanks for your comments Nancy. Yes, there are so many different orders & some do play volleyball or in the winter go ice skating. Our former Amish family - who left the Swartzentruber Order - did not participate in this much. But they loved to hunt.

  4. I agree that it must be difficult to keep young people away from technology, especially at a time when it seems most teens are constantly connected.