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Rumspringa[1] (Pennsylvania Dutch: [rʊmˈʃprɪŋə]; a noun derived from the Pennsylvania "Dutch" German verb term rumspringen "to jump around")[2][3] generally refers to a period of adolescence for some members of the Amish, a subsect of the Anabaptist Christian movement, that begins around the age of 14-16 and ends when a youth chooses baptism within the Amish church or instead leaves the community.[4]:10–11 The vast majority choose baptism and remain in the church. Not all Amish use this term (it does not occur in John Hostetler's extended discussion of adolescence among the Amish), but in sects that do, Amish elders generally view it as a time for courtship and finding a spouse.[4]:14


Popularized view

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 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.[5]: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.[6]:154[7]:165–166[8]:105[9][10]

It is the period when the young person is regarded as having reached maturity, and is permitted to attend the Sunday night "sings" that are the focus of courtship among the Amish; according to Amish sources, a youth who dares to attend one of these events before reaching the age of sixteen might be forcefed warm milk from a spoon, as a good-natured reminder to observe the lines of status.[2]

A minority of Amish youth do diverge from established customs.[4]:13 Some may be found:[4]:10–11

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.[4]: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, alcohol and illegal drugs. 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 and less acculturated Amish. For example, Swartzendruber Amish have a higher retention rate than the New Order Amish within the Holmes County, Ohio community.[citation needed] This figure was significantly lower as recently as the 1950s. Desertion from the Amish community is not a long-term trend, and was more of a problem in the early colonial years.[6] This phenomenon is documented in a National Geographic Channel Series Amish: Out of Order. [11]


As among the non-Amish, there is variation among communities and individual families as to the best response to adolescent misbehavior. Some Amish communities hold views similar to Old Order Mennonite, and Conservative Mennonites in seeking more productive, spiritual activities for their youth. Some even take up meditation.

In some cases, patience and forbearance prevail, and in others, vigorous discipline. Far from an open separation from parental ways, the misbehavior 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 those of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Logan, Hardin, Wayne, and Holmes Counties, 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 necessarily divided across traditional Amish church district boundaries, although they often are. 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 behavior since the anonymity offered in the larger communities is absent.

Wenger Mennonites youth go through a period of rumspringa between ages 16 and 18. They typically do not get into the type of serious offenses of the most 'disorderly' of the Amish groups.[12]:169–73,244


Rumspringa, "running around" in Pennsylvania Dutch or, more accurately, Pennsylvania German (as the term "Dutch" used in this context is a variant of the original word deutsch: German) is a noun closely related to the Standard German verb herumspringen meaning "to jump or hop around or about". The Standard German term is a portmanteau of the adverb herum (literally: here (her) about (um)) which means "around" or "around here" and the verb springen which means "to jump" or "to skip". However, in Swiss German as in some other German dialects, springen does — besides meaning "to jump" — also mean "to run". In modern Standard German "to skip" ordinarily would be translated with the verb hüpfen, which literally means "to hop". This term/concept also is used as a separable prefix verb, i.e., rumspringen/er springt rum.

The Pennsylvania German noun Rumspringa was derived by contracting the first component of the Standard German term herum to 'rum and converting the word ending to the Pennsylvania German noun form "a". Such dropping or swallowing of an initial sound (in this case the first two letters he of the first syllable her being dropped to form the contraction 'rum) occurs widely both in colloquial Pennsylvania German as well as many other German dialects, and does not alter the meaning of the prefix/term in any way.

Apart from Rumspringa's relationship to the Standard German term herumspringen, it also bears close resemblance to the standard Dutch verb rondspringen which likewise is translated as "jumping around".

Media coverage

Rumspringa is the subject of the book Amish Snow by Roger Rheinheimer, which chronicles Ezra Neuenschwander’s rocky journey from victim of an abusive Amish home life to successful businessman. Rumspringa is also the subject of the film documentary Devil's Playground (2002), which was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary and for three documentary Emmy Awards: Best Documentary, Editing, and Direction.[13] Spin-offs from Devil's Playground include a book of transcribed interviews, titled Rumspringa: To Be Or Not To Be Amish, and a UPN reality television series Amish in the City.

In 2010, the British Channel 4 broadcast a television documentary series entitled The Amish: World's Squarest Teenagers[14] focusing on 5 young Amish who traveled to the United Kingdom during their Rumspringa in order to participate in an arranged cultural exchange. In each episode the group stayed with British families of different socio-economic strata, living in turn on a South London Council Estate, the Kent countryside and even staying at a Scottish hunting estate. During their visit, they were introduced to diverse and unfamiliar things, including sex shops, street dance, single mothers, stabbing and street violence, rock music, beach parties, game shooting and polo. The first episode of the four episode series aired on July 25, 2010.

Popular culture

In "Rumspringa" (September 25, 2003) — season 5, episode 9 of the CBS television show Judging Amy — Amy must make a difficult decision when an Amish teenager, who becomes pregnant during rumspringa and decides to return to her community with her daughter, is sued by the child's "English" father for sole custody. Amy was forced to choose between the father's never seeing his child again and the mother's being shunned by her family.[15]

In "Missing" (December 4, 2003) — season 10, episode 9 of the NBC television show ER — Neela treats two Amish teenagers participating in rumspringa, Johanna and Thomas (portrayed by Shannon Lucio and Finn Wittrock) who were injured in a car accident after Thomas was shot while attempting to obtain marijuana in the south side of Chicago. After being discharged from the hospital, Johanna decides to leave the community, despite facing shunning by her family.[16]

In "Running Around" (October 7, 2007) — episode 96 (season 5, episode 3) of the CBS television show Cold Case — the team reopens the 2006 case of an Amish girl who was murdered while she was in Philadelphia experiencing rumspringa. The investigation reveals four extremely different reactions to the experience: Those of the three Amish teens involved in the investigation (Anna, Rachel, and Jakob), and the ideal experience described by Amy's mother, which Amy's younger sister (Sarah) embarks on at the episode's conclusion.[17]

In the film Sex Drive (2008), young Amish participating in Rumspringa are portrayed as an equivalent to stereotyped college spring break-goers, partaking in heavy drinking, partying, club dancing, and sexual activity despite never leaving their communities or changing into "English" clothing while partaking in these behaviors.

In "The Plain in the Prodigy" (October 1, 2009) — episode 87 of the FOX television show Bones (season 5) — Booth and Brennan investigate the death of Levi Yoder, a member of an Amish community whose bones are scattered along a railroad track. Booth and Brennan learn that Yoder was a brilliant pianist, and hypothesize that his talent may have contributed to his death.[18]

The Spike show, 1,000 Ways to Die which investigates supposed unusual death, showcases a young man going through Rumspringa that goes to a party and gets drunk. He ends up dying because he was born without the enzyme that aids in breaking down alcohol.

In the television show 30 Rock Liz Lemon says she took part in Rumspringa because her town had been founded by the Amish in the episode Leap Day.

In "The Dark Road" (June 10, 2012) — Season 1, episode 2 of the A&E (TV channel) television series Longmire (TV series) — Sheriff Longmire investigates the death of a young Mennonite who had become a stripper during rumspringa.

In the Tony-nominated musical Everyday Rapture, Sherie Rene Scott mentions her Mennonite upbringing and Rumspringa in the opening of the show[19].


  1. ^ Also spelled Rumschpringe or Rumshpringa, particularly in English. Related to the German term herumspringen or rumspringen, meaning jumping around.
  2. ^ a b Wittmer, Joe (1991). The Gentle People: Personal Reflections of Amish Life, With Contributions from Amish Children and Adults. Minneapolis:Educational Media Corporation. p. 75. 
  3. ^ The word is also translated thus in Kraybill, Donald R. (2001). The Riddle of Amish Culture. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 119,145. ISBN 978-0-8018-6772-9. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Shachtman, Tom (2006). Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux(hardcover). ASIN B001U7AOY4. 
  5. ^ Bowman, Carl Desportes. (1995). Brethren Society: The Cultural Transformation of a Peculiar People. ISBN 0-8018-4905-5. 
  6. ^ a b Hostetler, John A. (1993). Amish Society (4th ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 
  7. ^ Igou, Brad, ed. (1999). The Amish in their Own Words: Amish Writings from 25 Years of Family Life Magazine. Scottsdale, Pennsylvania and Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press. 
  8. ^ Nolt, Steven M. (1992). A History of the Amish. Intercourse, Pennsylvania: Good Books. 
  9. ^ Wesner, Erik (March 7, 2010). "Rumspringa-Myths and Reality". Amish America blog. Retrieved April 4, 2010. 
  10. ^ Wittmer, Joe. "Joe Wittmer, PhD, Responds to Questions Regarding the Amish (Installment #2)". Livonia, MI: Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church. Retrieved April 4, 2010. 
  11. ^ Amish Out of Order
  12. ^ Kraybill, Donald B; Hurd, James P. (2006). Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites hoofbeats of humility in a postmodern world. Penn State Press. ISBN 0-271-02866-1. 
  13. ^ "The 24th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Award Nominees". National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. August 11, 2003. 
  14. ^ UK Channel 4 page
  15. ^ CBS Interactive, Inc.. "Rumspringa Episode Recap".;recap. 
  16. ^ CBS Interactive, Inc.. "ER - Season 10, Episode 9: Missing". 
  17. ^ CBS Interactive, Inc.. "Running Around Episode Recap".;recap. 
  18. ^ CBS Interactive, Inc.. "The Plain in the Prodigy Episode Recap".;recap. 
  19. ^ In the season 2, episode 11 episode of Hot in Cleveland ("Where's Elka?") the main characters venture into an Amish community in search of the character Elka. In the season 1, episode 12 episode of Friends with Benefits, Riley briefly loves a young man who turns out to be on a rumspringa. Elyse Sommer (2009-05-01). "Everyday Rapture, a Curtainup Off-Broadway musical review. OriginalReview at Second Stage" (in en). CurtainUp. Retrieved 2011-08-23.