Rumspringa as portrayed in pop culture is a myth that does untold damage to those of us stuck inside who want a different future. We don’t get a choice to not leave the Church; and we’re not officially allowed to party or break the rules.
Just as in big cities, the more teens there are, the harder it is to control them and the easier and more likely it is that teens can get together and defy socially acceptable behavior and laws. In many smaller communities, the teens are so tightly controlled that experiencing the world outside is extremely difficult, often impossible.
No matter what community you come from, it’s always understood that you are never to leave the religion. Your only “choice” is to get baptized and remain a member of the Amish Church for the rest of your life. We’re neither encouraged nor supported to look into alternatives to the Amish Church. One of the baptismal vows is to remain a practicing member until your death. It’s more sacred than your marriage vow, which says a lot, because the Amish don’t allow divorce.
So What Is Rumspringa Then?
What rumspringa means literally is “running around” and it refers to a period of time. That’s it. It’s the period of time from age 16 or 17 (depending on the specific community you come from) until you get married inside the Church.
I cannot emphasize this definition enough, due to the fact that reality TV, some documentary films, and self-proclaimed academic experts (e.g., Donald Kraybill) deliberately lie about what rumspringa really is.
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