The year was 1990 and I was a freshman in college in Cleveland. Seeking to escape the pressure-cooker of upcoming exams I did what any red-blooded 18-year-old boy would do (insert sarcasm): I headed for Amish country. I had heard there was an Amish settlement not far from the east side of Cleveland and I just thought it’d be fun to take a drive and explore.
Not long after I arrived in Geauga County, in the distance I saw a glint of sunlight coming from an approaching buggy. As the buggy approached I noticed an Amish boy about my age sitting coolly on the buggy bench wearing a nifty pair of shades, his shirt unbuttoned halfway, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. The glint? The sun was reflecting off the metal casing of a boombox in the buggy with him cranking out some hip tunes. Unknown to me at the time, I had just witnessed my first glimpse of “rumspringa”, the period when some Amish youth (known as youngie) experiment with outside indulgences and influences.
Since those days rumspringa has become as much media confection as reality. In my experience, “rumspringa” is little more than teenage rebellion found in any culture. Not all Amish kids rebel, it is not as if rumspringa is a “requirement.” Although among the Amish rumspringa has more anthropological aims: the period gives Amish youth "an out", a chance to explore and experiment without generally being punished.
Social media and cell phones have changed the rumspringa equation among Amish teens. Rumspringa used to be a more solitary experience, but not anymore. I know of plenty of Amish youth who are on Facebook. The posts are often striking in that they sound like typical teens of any culture or religion.
I am excited to read Richard Stevick’s revised book “Growing Up Amish”, a thorough exploration of these formative years with updates to include the influence of social media on the Amish.
Over the weeks ahead I’ll be sharing my impressions of the book and how they jibe with my own experiences among Amish youth. SIGH, and speaking of youth, being a Dad has clobbered my available free time for reading. I used to devour books, but now about the only ones I am getting through are Dr. Seuss books, so it may take me a month or so to wade through Dr. Stevick’s book, but I can’t wait to read it!