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Rumspringa (IPA: [rəmˈsprɪŋə], Pennsylvania Dutch: [rʊmˈʃprɪŋə]), also spelled Rumschpringe or Rumshpringa, is a term for adolescence used in some Amish communities. The Amish, a subsect of the Anabaptist Christian movement, intentionally segregate themselves from other communities as a part of their faith. The Rumspringa normally begins around the age of 14 to 16 and ends when a youth chooses baptism within the Amish church, or instead leaves the community.: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.:14 A popular view exists by which the period is institutionalized as a rite of passage, and the usual behavioral restrictions are relaxed, so that Amish youth can acquire some experience and knowledge of the non-Amish world.
Rumspringa is a Pennsylvania German noun meaning running around. It is derived from the verb rumspringen ("to jump around" [cf. modern standard German herumspringen, i.e., (her + um) + springen]). It is closely related to the Standard German verb herumspringen meaning "to jump or hop around or about". The Standard German term is a compound word 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 — besides meaning "to jump" — also means "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 (to jump around) / er springt rum (he jumps around).
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 infinitive 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.
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.: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.:154:165–166:105
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.
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.:13 Almost ninety percent of Amish teenagers choose to be baptized and join the Amish church.
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, Swartzentruber Amish have a higher retention rate than the New Order Amish within the Holmes County, Ohio community. 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. This phenomenon is documented in a National Geographic Channel Series Amish: Out of Order.
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 21. They typically do not get into the type of serious offenses of the most 'disorderly' of the Amish groups.:169–73,244
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. 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. Rumspringa is also mentioned in the movie Sexdrive.
In 2010, Channel 4 broadcast a television documentary series entitled The Amish: World's Squarest Teenagers focusing on five 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 levels, living in turn on a South London Council Estate, the Kent countryside and 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 broadcast on July 25, 2010.