Youth Leaving the Amish Culture
By Joe Keim
May 1, 2012
Why are there so many young people leaving their parents and the Amish culture?
1. Is it because the days are evil and according to Romans 1:30 and
II Timothy 3:2, it will just end that way?
2. Is it because young people want to know why they are required to live differently from the rest of American society and are not getting solid answers (at least in their own mind) that make sense?
3. Is it because more and more Amish youth have cell phones and are able to stay connected with their friends who left before them and, in the process, get talked into leaving too?
4. Is it because the Amish population continues to grow (doubling in size every 15 years). And as it grows, the number of youth leaving becomes greater too?
Chances are, all of these areas are playing a part in why more and more Amish youth are leaving their parents and culture. However, I am convinced there is one reason that has not yet been pointed out, and it is the main one. Maybe the only one in many cases. Let me explain:
In my 25 years of counseling run-a-way Amish youth, between the ages of 16 and 19, I have found that in every single case, the emotional connection between child and parent was lost early in life. And as the emotional connection dwindled between child and parent, the child became more and more connected to something or someone else.
What continues to trouble me more than anything: oftentimes, as the emotional connection between parent and child breaks down, many parents add to the turmoil by responding to their child in a negative way. By that, I mean, rather than take time to reconnect the broken relationship, the parent chooses to become more controlling and aggressive, which in turn drives the child even further away.
I believe in discipline because the Bible says so. In Proverbs 13:24, Solomon writes: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (promptly)." We must use the rod, but just as importantly as it is to use the rod, it is ever so important that we love and hug on our children. They need to know that dad and mom believe in them; that they are appreciated and special.
The following is a true story that happened about 10 years ago. Atlee, at the age of 18 decided he no longer wanted to be Amish. So one night he got in contact with one of his buddies who had left previously and asked him to come and pick him up. Atlee said, "I've had all I can take and I'm coming free from all the authority and rules that are driving me crazy."
The day after Atlee left, I met up with him and I said, "Atlee, I have just three questions for you:
[Question #1] When was the last time your parents said they loved you?
To which he replied, "never!" - "they have never told me that I am loved!"
[Question #2] When was the last time you received a hug from either one of your parents?
Again, Atlee replied "never! I don't remember ever getting a hug."
[Question #3] When was the last time your parents said, "Atlee, we want you to know, we really appreciate you a lot. You are a hard worker and we are very thankful for everything you do around here."
And again, Atlee replied, "Joe, I have not once in 18 years heard any of those words." In fact, he said, "it has been quite the opposite. My dad is always hollering at me. I can never seem to measure up, regardless of how hard I try."
Dear reader, can you see what was happening in Atlee's life? Do you blame him for wanting to leave his parents?
What happened in Atlee's situation is happening in many of other homes. And oftentimes, when the son or daughter leaves the Amish, the parent's first reaction is to blame someone else for what happened. Either they will blame the person s/he was hanging around with, or they will blame the person who helped them leave. I don't mean to sound cruel or mean but it's the truth.
Maybe at this point, it would be good to remind ourselves that blaming others for our own shortcomings started with the first couple in the Garden of Eden. Remember how God came to Adam in chapter 3 of Genesis-after they had eaten the forbidden fruit-God asked, "Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?" and Adam replied, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat."
The first thing Adam did was blame his wife. So God turned to Eve and asked, "What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled (deceived) me, and I did eat." Again, the blame was passed on to someone else.
Six thousand years have not made any difference at all when it comes to pushing the blame on others, myself included. We all stand guilty before God.
But in the context of our question, today (Why are there so many young people leaving their parents and the Amish culture?) let's be honest with ourselves and evaluate the relationships between us and our children. What do they look like? When was the last time you reminded them how much you appreciate, love and cherish them? If it has been more than 2 or 3 months, it has been too long. They need to hear it on a regular basis. We all need to hear it often.
My challenge to you is, regardless of what your emotional connection looks like with your children, don't let this day end before you take each one aside and love on them. They need to hear it even more if they are at the beginning stages of adulthood.
Early stages of adulthood often brings new concerns about body image and appearance. Both girls and boys who never before gave much thought to their looks may suddenly spend hours worrying and complaining-about being too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny or too pimply. They may even appear to be lazy, but don't let any of these changes keep you from telling them how special they are.
Lastly, we would love to hear from you, concerning this topic. We'll even print it in the next Amish Voice, if you let us. That is, if you get it to me by May 15th.
May the Lord favor you with courage, wisdom and a heart that spills over with love and appreciation for your children.
-- Joe Keim
« Back to Articles