Understanding Amish 'rumspringa'
To outsiders, the Amish community can be hard to understand. A devout, technology-shunning group with German and Dutch roots, they exist largely outside mainstream American culture. They are also known for being relatively insular and maintaining minimal contact with others.
However, for a period of time beginning on their 16th birthday, many Amish youths do venture out of their normal existence in an effort to experience the modern world. This rite of passage is known as 'rumspringa,' from the Dutch phrase 'to jump around.'
This stage means different things for every member of the Amish community, but it all starts with the same goal: to give individuals the information they need to choose an Amish lifestyle or not.
For many, this period is tame. They live at home like most teenagers and experiment mildly, while still relatively certain that they will enter the community wholeheartedly when the time comes.
For others, though, the stage is filled with testing and boundary-pushing that is extreme by any standards. Experiencing 'worldly' life, as the Amish refer to it, can include drugs, sex and rock and roll. No longer under their parents' supervision and, because they are not baptized, not yet under religious authority, some Amish teens use this as an opportunity to explore life's extremes.
As it is in many cultures, this adolescent period is often used as a way for young Amish men to meet women, and vice versa. Away from the prying eyes of parents and religious elders, many Amish teens use the time to meet a mate, whom they typically marry before they are 22.
You might think that exposing these adolescents to the outside world would lead to a large number of them not returning. However, the vast majority of Amish teens that go through rumspringa eagerly return to their family and church. The freedom, it seems, makes them more comfortable, not less, with adopting a life of Amish austerity.