Rumspringa is a period of freedom when youth are suspended between 2 worlds: the control of their parents and the supervision of the church. Sixteen is the traditional age when Amish youth begin Rumspringa. In this “running around period,” youth’s social life is more independent from the rest of their family. They spend weekend evenings with Amish peers of their own age, rather than with their parents’ friends or their younger brothers or sisters. Amish youth are not breaking any church rules since they have not been baptized. They are not required to submit to church regulations until they are baptized. Rumspringa is a period when youth are between the supervision of their parents and the authority of the church.
Parents tend to tolerate more rowdiness on their child’s road to adulthood. They hope and pray that their children will commit to an Amish way as adults. Some parents dread the time and pray diligently that their offspring will not make foolish choices that could hound them forever.
Sometimes during Rumspringa, Amish youth become rebellious and disregard Amish beliefs and values. To the embarrassment of some church leaders, some youth may frequent bars, attend movies and go to the beach. In 1998, two youths going through Rumspringa, were arrested for buying cocaine and reselling it to their Amish friends.
Although some youth engage in wild activities, many others behave in traditional ways. Youth activities may include playing volleyball or ice hockey, swimming, going on picnics, hiking or attending large barn parties. A popular activity is “singings”, in which groups gather together in a home and sing for several hours. Rumspringa activities vary from settlement to settlement. Parental involvement with youth activities and the amount of contact with the outside world differs widely.
Sunday evening “singings” are the most common and oldest youth activities. It dates back to the nineteenth century or even earlier. The gathering is usually held in a home, barn, shop or outdoors. It is preceded by volleyball or table games and a meal or picnic. “Singings” are a prime youth activity across all communities, but the format and practices may vary. “Singings” are an important part of most Amish communities but is only one of several social activities.
The freedom of the youth creates the perception of choice, and that perception encourages adults to uphold the Ordnung in later life. After all, they had a chance to explore the outside world and decide on the cost of membership before joining the church. Over the years such thinking bolsters adult commitment to the church.