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Something to watch with the (older) kids

Posted at 6:17 PM on August 31, 2007 by Euan Kerr

Labor Day weekend is a glass half empty/half full kind of a holiday. Its the end of the summer and the start of school. Being a parent, the start of school has a good ring to it, as the wild shenanigans of the summer morph into the rigors of the fall schedule.

In that light it intrigues me that over the past few weeks the movie which the Kerr family unit has discussed the most is Lucy Walker's 2002 documentary "The Devil's Playground."

The film is a remarkable portrait of young people in an Amish community in Indiana going through a coming of age period called 'rumspringa.' At age 16 the Amish youngsters are freed from the rules rejecting the outside world, and they are free to explore 'the Devil's playground,' the world in which the rest of us live. The hope is that, having experienced that world the young people will find it wanting and return to the Amish church, rejecting the "English" world for the rest of their lives.

For the kids it's a wild ride. They try dating, smoking, and driving cars, start hanging out in malls, and holding huge rave-like dances complete with wild drinking, and for some, drugs. Some make it through with ease, others get into deep trouble. All of them appear to see the time as a test of their faith. Some never return to the Amish life, but a remarkable number do.

Walker has some remarkable material, particularly given the usual Amish reluctance to be photographed.

We ended up watching it separately from our daughter Sarah (18 and just about to go to college.) I am not sure that Malcolm the 16 year old saw more than a few minutes of it. However it did start more than one conversation with both of them, and some of their friends on the challenges of approaching adulthood, and the way that beliefs religious and philosophical can shape what we do.

We didn't come to any great conclusions, but it's never a bad thing to talk.

(And if you have seen the film and are curious about what happened to some of the people, go here and scroll down to Lucy Walker's essay.)

August 2007
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