Pushing Boundaries: Better Safe or Sorry?

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Adolescence is typically a time of experimentation and testing boundaries, but if you're an Amish teenager, you're faced with a confounding choice between family or isolation, tradition or the modern world and faith or uncertainty. Even in the restrictive Amish culture, where kids lead a way of life with no electricity or music and are expected to be entirely obedient to their elders, they are given a temporary break. Once they turn sixteen, their church gives them a period of self discovery called “rumspringa” which is loosely translated, in their adopted Pennsylvania Dutch language to “running around”. This period gives Amish teens the chance to explore the forbidden modern world before deciding whether they will forever commit themselves to the church. During this stage, the teens immerse themselves in things familiar in western society but that are sacrilegious in the traditional Amish culture. They negotiated their way through a series of first encounters with the modern world, including remote controls, text messaging and drunken nights.

ABC News followed 17-year-old Harley, an Amish teen who, during the rumspringa, found himself escaping from one set of rules to another that he didn’t understand. “This was the real time where I could find myself, know what I’m like and what I believe in,” he says “I don’t want to do it [rumspringa] again, but I’m glad, and it’s important I did. I grew as a person and now I know what I want.”

Truth is, more than 80% of the teenagers who experience the exciting rumspringa, return back to their traditional Amish way of life. They now know what life is like loosened from the ropes, and even though they enjoy it, most of them see that this life of indulgent freedom isn’t the one they want to lead. Like Harley, the teens gain a new perspective and understanding of their own morals, but said they see the emptiness of the temporary life.

Giving teenagers some freedom to move about this world, make their own mistakes...
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