Rumspringa is the term for Amish teenagers' period of experimentation and freedom from religious rules, when they are able to live on their own, drive cars, drink, and experiment with other aspects of mainstream American culture without worrying about consequences from their elders. The term rumspringa is a literal translation of the Pennsylvania German expression, "running around."
Traditionally, the Amish family is tightly bound, and obeys religious rules, such as forgoing the use of electricity, cell phones, and cars, and wearing modest clothes at all times. Women wear long dresses and bonnets, while men wear suits and beards. They are devoutly religious, and go to church often. During the period of rumspringa, however, young people are excused from all of the traditional behaviors and rules of the Amish community.
Rumspringa is a coming-of-age experience that generally begins around the age of sixteen. Though many Amish teenagers will continue living in their parents' house during this time, others may move out. During rumspringa, teenagers often experience the "English" way of life, which is how they refer to mainstream American culture. They may go to bars or nightclubs, drive cars, and date non-Amish people. At the end of the rumspringa period, which traditionally lasts about two years, teenagers are expected to return to the Amish community so that they can be baptized, after which point they are expected to follow all the laws of Amish society.
If an Amish teenager chooses not to be baptized, he will be shunned from the Amish community. His family and community will refuse to speak to him or associate with him ever again. For many Amish teenagers, even if they enjoy the freedom of "English" life, the threat of being shunned by their community is enough to lure them back to the Amish lifestyle. Though a few Amish teenagers will decide to marry "English" partners and assimilate into American society, or decide to live independently, the vast majority of Amish teenagers return to their communities, though some may extend the rumspringa period for many years before returning home.
In 2002, a documentary film called Devil's Playground was made about Amish teenagers experiencing rumspringa. The documentary followed a group of teenagers through the rumspringa period, with interviews about their conflicting emotions about returning to the Amish community. More recently, a reality TV series called "Amish in the City" put Amish teenagers on rumspringa in a house with American teenagers.