One Year Later: How Amish Teens Decided

Amish Rumspringer

Adolescence is typically a time to experiment and test boundaries. But if you're an Amish teenager, you face a confounding choice between family or isolation, tradition or the modern world, faith or uncertainty.

Last summer "Primetime's" Jay Schadler told the story of four Amish teenagers in central Ohio who found themselves at a crossroads. Schadler had followed the teens for a year during the Amish rite of passage known as rumspringa.

VIDEO: Harley, 21, explains decision to return to Amish: "Life without family sucks."

This period of discovery, loosely translated in the Amish's Pennsylvania Dutch language as "running around," gives Amish teens the chance to explore the usually forbidden modern world before deciding whether they will forever commit themselves to the Amish way of life.

ABC News returned to Ohio this summer to see what paths the youths had chosen. Had they decided to return to Amish life? Or were they setting a different course, one that would lead them away from their families and community?

Amish Teens Make Choice of Lives

The Amish way of life means living according to a strict set of religious rules, with no electricity, no cars, no music and no education beyond the eighth grade. The Amish wear traditional clothes and stay away from the outside, or "English" world.

Baptized once as children and again as adults, the Amish believe that only adults can make informed decisions about their own salvation. The decision to join the Anabaptist Christian Church means they consciously take on the responsibility of following the Ordnung -- the unwritten rules -- that have sustained the culture for several centuries.


The challenge is that if the outside temptations prove more powerful than the world they have always known, the teens will spend the rest of their lives severed from their families. It's a high-stakes choice between the enticement of freedom or returning to the faith and comfort of family and community life.

Four Teens at a Crossroads

According to studies done by Thomas J. Meyers, a sociology professor at Goshen College in Indiana, more than 80 percent of Amish youth eventually join the church.

In 2007, when ABC News first spoke with the four teens (whose last names have been omitted to protect the identities of their families), each was grappling with the question of permanently leaving the Amish community.

"If you don't grow up in the Amish, then you don't know what it's like," said Danny, then 18, who ran away from his Amish family by jumping from the second-floor of his father's farm house late one night.

He negotiated his way through a series of first encounters with the modern world, including remote controls, text messaging and drunken nights, to find that he had escaped one set of rules for another he didn't understand. Danny's internal conflicts about the decision to be or not to be Amish landed him, first, in trouble and, then, in jail.

"They think I'm lost," Danny said at the time. "If I were to die, they think I can't go to heaven. I mean, I might not go to heaven, but not every Amish is going to heaven."

When ABC News first spoke with Lena nearly two years ago when she was 16, she cleaned houses by day and at night texted and talked secretly on her cell phone by candlelight. "You have a big decision if you want to stay with the Amish or if you want to leave," said Lena, the youngest of 11 children. "I'm confused in my life."

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