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 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.
This is a coming-of-age experience that generally begins around the age of 16. Though many Amish teenagers will continue living in their parents' house during this time, others may move out. The teens 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 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 is baptized and then leaves the community, he will be shunned, and his family and community will refuse to speak to him or associate with him ever again. 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. Some teenagers may extend the rumspringa period for many years before returning home, however.
In 2002, a documentary film called Devil's Playground was made about Amish teenagers experiencing this rite of passage. 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 teens in a house with American teenagers.