Colony Allows Teens a bit of Latitude

Aksamit, Nichole. "Colony Allows Teens a bit of Latitude." Forum, 18 November 1999, sec. A7.

The modest women of Spring Prairie Colony share a quiet moment in the early morning sun on a trailer behind a tractor headed for a cucumber field northwest of Hawley, Minnesota.

Spring Prairie Colony, Minn.

Although Hutterites believe that if you spare the rod you spoil the child, the elder minister of this colony northwest of Hawley says teenagers are teen-agers and, as such, should be given a little latitude.

"As the apostle Paul said, we were all at one time very unwise," says John Waldner Sr. "Some people grow in stature faster than their mind and that sometimes causes problems. I guess the colonies aren't immune from that, but then I guess the control we have is different."

Waldner says the colony's small size, moral rules and dress code curb what have become common teen problems in the outside world: premarital sex, drugs and alcohol, violence.

"Sex in life has its time, and everything that leads to it prematurely starts with dress," he says.

At Spring Prairie, teen-agers' clothing, like adults', covers them almost from head to toe. Hutterite boys wear button-down shirts, long black pants, suspenders and caps.

Hutterite girls wear white button-down shirts under brightly colored vests and matching long pleated skirts with aprons. Their hair is always parted in the middle, pinned up in the back and covered by a bonnet or kerchief, depending on their age.

Makeup, jewelry and perfume are not allowed. Nor are radio, television or the Internet, although the colony does use computers for record-keeping and its business manager uses the Internet to locate goods or hard-to-find parts.

Smoking and drugs are strictly forbidden and only adults are allowed to drink small doses of alcohol, such as beer or homemade wine, "for health."

Colony schools and workplaces are small and teen-agers must often work with people outside their peer group - parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings - so peer pressure to do the wrong things is offset by encouragement from adults and younger children to behave in accord with the moral code.

"We can control it to a certain extent here," Waldner says. "But in schools where freedom overextends itself, what problems that can create!"

Reprinted with permission of The Forum

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