Anonymous asked: What makes Amish children act so well-behaved?
I can answer this question from the point of view of having been an Amish child, from the point of view of having been a schoolteacher, and from the point of view of looking at the culture as a whole. First of all, like any other culture, it varies as to how well-behaved children are — from family to family, or even from one child to another within the same family. However, I agree, when compared to children in mainstream American culture, the Amish children are relatively well-behaved, at least in the outside world. Part of it is the culture — being expected to sit through three-hour church services every other Sunday from the time you are born, is a discipline most children don’t have. It wasn’t always easy sitting through church services, but mothers bring a basket of playthings along for the younger children to play quietly. When I would forget myself and talk out loud, my mother would put her hand over my mouth and whisper into my ear that I had to be quiet. I talked before I walked, so Mem labeled me the chatterbox or question box at a young age. So it took Mem many tries to keep me from talking in church. Other children tend to have a harder time sitting still. No matter what the individual child must overcome to do so, Amish children learn, by the time they are five, how to sit still in church, much the way all children are potty trained by the time they are four years old.
Besides the discipline of sitting still in church, there is also the fairly universal belief among the Amish in the verse from the Bible about sparing the rod and spoiling the child. So, quite honestly, Amish children are afraid of getting spanked if they do something they know is wrong or have been asked not to. It can be debated as to whether it’s good or bad, but the Amish children are afraid of misbehaving. I chose not to spank my own children and they were clearly not as well-behaved as Amish children. During the late teens/early twenties when the Amish parents look the other way, young people tend to rebel more and show less respect than they did as children, but when they settle down and become members of the church and get married, they again submit to the authority of the church.
I mentioned earlier that the Amish children are well-behaved in the outside world. I don’t know how things go in other families, but within our family, we were often not well-behaved at home. We were really mean to one another and actually fought one another physically. I think it’s fairly common for Amish children to fight each other, so I don’t think our family was alone in this. It is as if there are two codes of behavior — one inside the family, the other outside. When I think about it, this fits with the Amish belief system of keeping their problems within the community. For example, when a story breaks about child sexual abuse among the Amish, it is often said that the perpetrator has already been dealt with within the community, and therefore he doesn’t need to be dealt with in a court of law. By believing their system is sufficient to deal with anything that comes up, the Amish essentially can deny the problem, so long the community keeps it hidden from the outside world. I never made the connection that the children are learning this early on and then playing it out in the way they behave differently inside the family versus outside.
I really thought I was going to give a straightforward answer to this question — that the Amish children are well-behaved because of the discipline, but then I remembered how we certainly didn’t behave very well in our own home. Of all the discoveries I’ve made about the Amish culture, while and since living that lifestyle, I am amazed how there are always more discoveries to be made. Thank you very much for this question.
As I write this, I am reminded of what it was to be a child in the community. I am sharing a photo of the school I attended for part of my grade school years.