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Amish Teens and Drinking:  Promoting Awareness of Alcohol in the Amish Community

Thursday, June 15, 2000 at 9:13 AM

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Ohio is home to some of the largest Amish communities in the world. While the population is growing, so is a problem that until recently was not discussed publicly. Law enforcement and bishops from Amish churches are banding together to educate teens about drinking - but as 90.3's Yolanda Perdomo reports, the rite of passage to the church for some may come through using drugs and alcohol.

Yolanda Perdomo- Black 19th century style horse-drawn wooden wheeled buggies share narrow, hilly, 2-lane roadways with cars and trucks in Holmes county. About an hour and a half south of Cleveland, along with four surrounding counties, it has the largest Amish settlement in the world, with more than 17,000 of the country’s 130,000 Amish residents. They ride side-by-side with motorized vehicles on streets where red barns, white two-story homes, and one-room school houses are separated by acres of green pastures.

Men wear medium brimmed straw hats, light blue or white buttoned shirts with denim pants held up by black suspenders. The length of their beard tells you how long ago they joined the church. Women and girls have their hair pulled back using black or white bonnets, their pastel-colored dresses have hooks and eyelets. Anything more would be considered boastful, something looked down upon in the Amish community. Their faith, which among other things, does not allow them to use anything that needs electricity, dictates that a simpler life is more Godly. In Mount Eaton, a town in Holmes county, Amish walk around town greeting each other with a nod and half smile. Because of a shortage in affordable farmland, more and more Amish are working with, and for, the “English,” people outside of their community, as furniture crafters, quilt makers, and food vendors.

But some Amish think working in the outside world is having a bad influence. Drinking and drug usage by Amish teens is an open secret. John is a 20-something Amish man with wavy blonde hair tucked under a light yellow straw hat. Looking down at the ground, he says he began drinking regularly at 16, and only quit seven years later. John also did marijuana and cocaine and was arrested at least 7 seven times for substance crimes and was in and out of jail for a year before reforming and going back to the church.

John- Everybody goes through that stage. Finally I see a point where I have to make up my own mind, so I decided to change. I feel it’s a good idea that if you do it to get out of it. The sooner the better, it’s not a very good thing to do.

YP- Amish teens, like others their age, party in groups, mostly far away from watchful adults. In some sects of the Amish community, they’re allowed and even encouraged to experiment with life in the English world before they make a commitment to their church and get married. More than 90% who do engage in what’s called the ruumsprenhgher eventually make it back to church to get baptized and start a family. Its the ages between 16 and 20 when Amish teens, mostly boys, engage in these activities. Laurie, a 17-year-old Amish girl who works at a bank says it’s no big deal. Dressed in a white bonnet and beige dress, she shrugs at the notion that they’re all prim and proper.

Laurie- Every once in a while over the weekend we do, but it’s just for fun. I mean, just like any other young teenagers, because it’s kind of like a tradition - I mean everyone does it, I guess. Not only Amish do this either so. It’s not that we’re bad or anything because of it. There’s other people that are bad too. I don’t think it’s bad really - I think because we’re Amish lots of people think too much of us and don’t we don’t do that. I mean. But there’s English people that do the same stuff.

YP- Last fall in southeastern Ohio, police sirens and horns couldn’t wake an Amish teen passed out drunk in his buggy. The unrestrained horse-drawn vehicle later crashed into a police car. This episode was one of several that magnified the need to help Amish teens. In the mid 90’s, law enforcement officials from the area met with local bishops of the Amish churches to discuss the problem of substance abuse among teenagers of that community. According to Chief David Easton of the Middlefield Police Department, Amish elders wanted to help nip the problem in the bud. There are no numbers on Amish people who are arrested, because it’s equivalent to classifying someone by their religion. Easton has one theory as to why it’s a problem among the Amish.

David Easton- The Amish children go to school until they’re about 14. After 14, which is the 8th grade, they’re expected to go to work. The girls might get married at 16 or 17 years old. They’re doing adult things at 15, 16, 17 years old when our children are still in school. At 18 years old, our children are in college, still doing things that children do. Where the Amish are out in the workforce, contributing to the family budget, the girls are getting married, having children, they’re joining the church. They’re looked at as adults at 14 when we tend to look at our children as children until they’re 22, when they get out of school.

YP- Cultural differences were noted when the D.A.R.E. substance abuse awareness program for kids was included in the Amish curriculum three years ago in Geauga county, an hour southeast of Cleveland. An officer goes into the school once a week to talk about the dangers of substance abuse. Kids write essays about what they’ve learned at the end of the semester. While accepted by the Amish community as a preventative measure, adjustment were made to accommodate them. Again Chief Dave Easton of the Middlefield Police Department.

DE- Pride is a sin to the Amish, for a person to have too much pride. And of course the D.A.R.E. program builds pride and self esteem. So they had to make some modifications in the program to make it acceptable to the Amish who helped work on the program. But it is successful.

YP- While no studies exist proving the D.A.R.E. program is working for Amish kids, Easton says fewer are being stopped in their buggies or being in the wrong place at the wrong time with alcohol and drugs. But one thing Amish teens, adults, and law enforcement agree on is that Amish teens are no different than their English counterparts when it comes to wanting to stay out late, and party out of sight. Yolanda Perdomo, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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