What Students Are Saying About the Role of Religion in Their Lives … – The New York Times

wp header logo 117

Supported by
current events conversation
Teenage comments in response to our recent writing prompts, and an invitation to join the ongoing conversation.

This week on The Learning Network, we asked teenagers about the role that religion plays in their lives. We also wanted to hear about the traits or quirks they inherited from their parents, and, inspired by athletes like Tom Brady who have “un-retired,” we asked them their thoughts on comeback stories.
Thank you to all those who joined the conversation this week, including teenagers from Ames, Iowa; Baldwinsville, N.Y. and Tennessee.
Please note: Student comments have been lightly edited for length, but otherwise appear as they were originally submitted.
Religion is a rich part of many students’ lives, and, as the seasons of Easter, Ramadan and Passover began, we asked them about the role religion played in their childhoods — and how much it is a part of their lives now.
Some teenagers told us about an unwavering belief in the benefits of faith. Others had a more a complicated relationship with religion. Some examined the role of religion in providing social capital, while others pointed out that religion has sometimes been “weaponized” as a tool of hatred and oppression. Here are the themes that came up over and over:
My family is religious and I did grow up with being involved in the church. My mom went to church every Sunday so now so does my family at the same church she went to in the village. For a while it seemed that we were just going through the actions of attending mass and weren’t getting much out of it. Since I have started going to a different church for youth group I feel like I have been learning a lot. I believe that God already has our lives planned out for us and we are just following the path that he has created for us. Our faith greatly affects who we are, the values we hold, and the morals we find valuable.
Grace, Baldwinsville
Religion has played a huge role in my life due to the fact we had to go to church every Sunday, but no matter what religion is a major part of my life because whenever you feel down or want to give up on life you always know there is someone who is always there for you. Not only that but I consider religion a part of me because every day I wake up and religion is always with me and part of me
Christoper, Julia.R. Masterman in Philadelphia, PA
Religion is probably the most important thing in my life. I go to a PCA church, which is a conservative, reformed denomination. I have gone to church regularly since I was born and during the pandemic, we watched a live stream our church set up during COVID. I enjoy talking about theology with my dad and plan to keep going to church when I am an adult, even though I’m not a fan of getting up early.
Whenever I have had problems or struggled I was able to get through them because I knew that I have a God who loves me and that my life is in His control. My religion helps me when I am scared, sad, or confused. It is who I am. I don’t agree with all the identity stuff going on right now and I don’t think emotion or personality is the real determiner of who I am. Every day before school when my dad drops me off he tells me, “remember whose you are.” Who’s I am is who I am, and I am the child of a loving Father, God Himself. That is all I need to know.
Bea, Tennessee
Religion, formative as it is, has also instilled deep guilt and shame in me. The church, in my experience, is a community of people that are called to live by the same code and principles, to become very involved in each other’s lives, and to admonish and urge each other to follow in the way of God, all the while called to never judge each other. This combination often makes for a culture that tolerates subtle manipulation and control of individuals through the power of guilt and shame, as long as it advances the interests of the church.
My position on my religious upbringing is complicated and clouded by the validation I still seek from the leaders in my church. I think that with time more shortcomings of my religion will become clear, but I know that the foundational principles of Christianity will always stick with me, if only in the back of my mind.
Olivia, Reed
I see religion as a good thing because it’s nice to have hope in something or feel like you always have someone who cares and wants to be with you. But I also see very bad things in it. I am not very religious and I don’t believe in some of the stuff that people who are religious believe in. They say that being LGBTQ+ is wrong and that if a woman shows off her body even a little she is a whore and a temptress. And other sexist, homophobic things. But I believe that every person deserves to be able to believe in what they want without judgment … And I am not saying that every person who is religious, believes these things or acts this way, but I see most people blaming their hate on their religion. I know many very kind and non judgmental Christians and Catholics, so I am very aware that not every person who is religious is like this.
Ava, Backer High School
Is religion beneficial? This is a question I’ve been pondering for what feels like my whole life, but the only answer I found for myself is: maybe. I grew up in a Jewish family, and that has been an experience full of highs and lows. I love my family’s culture; every prayer, holiday, and food can do something for someone, whether it’s joy, comfort, or closure. However, hate is ingrained in our society, and with every generation there are more hate crimes and cases of persecution. This is the case for so many, if not every religion. It can be a source of comfort and a way to connect to yourself or your family, but many use it as a weapon against others, which is when it loses its worth.
Anna, J.R. Masterman Philadelphia, PA
I can’t say that I’ve ever felt benefited by Christianity- most of the actual interactions I’ve had with church members have been being thrown pocket bibles on the walk to school, or getting into internet fights with people who tell me I’m going to hell. I’m aware these people don’t constitute the entire Christian population of the US, but I can’t say I’m impressed with the effect Christianity has on my life.
Meghan, Glenbard West High School
I do not think religion is beneficial for most people if you can’t recognize yourself out of it, and you have no morals without it. Most people, like myself, grew up with a religious upbringing where most of our fundamentals in life come from a thousand year book, where they condemn us if we don’t follow every rule. However, for the most part I was raised with fluidity where I had the option to defer from my religion, or just chose to not heavily associate myself with it. But I’ve learned that a lot of people in my religious community have absolutely no morals, regard, or respect for people/things that are not incorporated with their religion or unless it’s in their religion too. An example is a lot of people in the religion I grew up with, have very homophobic and hateful ideologies, even though those in the LGBTQ+ community don’t bother them, and it’s simply not their business what they do, a lot of religious people go out of their way to make that concern them, simply because their thousand year old religion told them to. And that’s where I feel like it’s not beneficial, nothing should ever make you go out of your way and shun a group of people or spew hate just because they aren’t ordinary to you and your traditions. If a religion or old book written by people who claimed their God was “speaking” to them is making you act like that, not only are you contradicting your religion, but your religion isn’t benefiting you in terms of you being a good person.
Lariah, Maury High School
I was raised and still am in a Mormon home that has shaped who I am as a human being and who I am at school. Mormonism places a huge emphasis on education and in this I find myself trying harder in my classes. I agree with the majority of this article because my grades have gotten better after my testimony grew, I found myself caring about my education and realizing that what I know is all up to me. I have found comfort in being able to know I have my religious background to draw strength from or to fall back on. I have seen that effect on my life and in the ways I have studied, lived, and carried myself. I have not only felt better about my grades but coming to school. Ever since it dawned on me that school is a gift I have been more excited and haven’t complained as much about school.
MaRynne, Loveland, CO
My religion has provided me with a sense of community, especially when I go to church. Going to church provides me with a sense of community because I see a large group of people who come together to pray and worship the same thing. It makes me feel like I have a community to fall back on. I also have a lot of adult role models at my church. All of the doctors, lawyers, volunteers, and ushers are role models to me. Seeing a whole bunch of people that have different jobs shows me all the options I can choose from. Even though they are all different people with different jobs and different incomes they are all happy and treat each other the same. My religion is also the reason why I do many sports or have connections to different groups. Through my religion, I have been able to have new experiences that I have never had before.
Victoria, J.R. Masterman in Philadelphia, PA
Fortunately, although I do not follow a select religion, I still have a web of support. These people include my family (immediate and extended, for the most part), all of my close friends, a few neighbors, a few teachers, and sports coaches and teammates that I have known for years. These are the people who support me daily and who make me want to succeed in life. These people support me by helping me when I’m stuck on a particularly tricky assignment, when I desperately need some good advice, and by just simply being there. I am completely happy with my social capital/web of support — it could not be better.
Having my own web of support makes me understand Dr. Horwitz’s findings much better. Religion gives you a sense of community — you have a wide network of people to help you if times get hard.
Charlotte, J.R. Masterman in Philadelphia, PA
Religions’ ability to tap into much needed “social capital” when it comes to the working class is not hard to understand, given the disparity in access to such capital from other means in Dr. Horwitz’s analysis. In the absence of secular support such as that of the state, religion appears as an accessible, conventional, and unstigmatized force to restore hope and offer guidance. This reflects the lack of state support in these people’s lives and questions whether the state is really serving the tenet of equality it claims.
Narya, Oakville
The role religion plays in my life at first glance is one of absence. My mother left a Communist country that officially disdained religion, and my father grew up in an era when Jewish families like his strove to assimilate and soften the edges of their differences from the ‘mainstream.’ Our family believes in kindness, and in humanism, but not in a particular religious faith. In some ways, though, the absence of religion is itself a presence in my life. I find it jarring that people are assumed to have religious beliefs, as if that’s the only way to have a creed. Surveys often show that people are more against their children marrying an atheist than someone from an ‘unpopular’ religion like Islam. Every politician takes great pains to display his or her faith, and many have claimed that the Bible is their favorite book, even while the number of Americans who do not affiliate themselves with a particular religion is increasing. Being biased against those who have no religion should be just as unacceptable as being biased against those who don’t share your particular faith.
Aria, The Athenian School
We asked students to read the Opinion essay “The Challenge of Raising a Kid Who’s Just Like You,” written by a mother who sees her daughter struggle with many of the things she has struggled with herself. That prompted us to ask students what they feel they have inherited or learned from the adults who raised them, and how they feel about those traits.
I think that it’s really funny that this is this week’s writing prompt, because not a day goes by where my mom doesn’t tell me how much I’m like my dad. She hasn’t always talked about it, but lately I think we’re all realizing how many of his traits I have. I’ve always thought my dad was a cool guy and when I was younger I always wanted to spend time with him. He’s been my best friend my whole life from dancing in the kitchen, teaching me to cook, talking about boys (he’s my #1 person to share drama with), and teaching me about the world around me. He’s always let me have my own opinions and styles even if they conflicted with his which looking back on it, I really appreciate. That being said, I can totally see his influence in my everyday actions like the styles of music I like, advice I give to my friends, even down to how I don’t take my shoes off when I get home and just wear them until I go to bed. Going back to what I was saying about my mom though, every little witty remark I make or stupid joke I let off makes her laugh and say “I swear you’re Dad’s twin.” It makes me feel good that I’m growing into the person I’ve always wanted to be like.
Eliza, Baldwinsville
Oval-faced, lanky and long-waisted, blue-green mixed eyes, and exceptionally dry hands. My mother and I are nearly identical, our biggest separating factor being that of age. Although one look at an old photograph of her as a child is self-explanatory, my older relatives relish in telling me “you look exactly like your mom when she was your age,” at any given family function. It’s not just appearance, as I get older I feel myself falling into her habits as well. Whether it’s from her raising me right or simply the human nature of adopting the habits of those you surround yourself with, I’m totally turning into my Mom. Similarly, my older sister is exactly like my Dad, sarcastic, lacking in energy, and extremely nihilistic when it comes to the world and society. Interestingly with both of us, I find we have inherited certain traits that could be deemed as negative rather than a majority of positive traits. Maybe their unhealthy coping mechanisms influenced us to develop our own strange habits or maybe toxicity can be passed down through generations. Whatever the case, we are products of our parents, for better or worse.
Caroline, New Jersey
When I was young, I despised order and routine. When my dad tried to make plans or establish rules I would find it very annoying and unnecessary. My brother and I would tease him for his constant use of the word “efficiency.” However, as I have grown older, I’ve come to the terrifying realization that I have inherited these traits. I write a daily to-do list, I go to bed and wake up early, and I find myself doing things my younger self would see as uptight. I am not as go-with-the-flow as I used to be, and yet, I am completely content with my newfound organization. As boring as it may seem, giving myself these parameters has helped me make the most of my days. Despite all of my past teasing, my dad has turned out to be a huge influence on my character, whether I like it or not.
Ava, Glenbard West Highschool
The other day I was sitting on my computer doing homework like I am doing now, and suddenly I spaced off into the mirror in front of where I am sitting. At that moment looking at myself I realize that I have the same concentration face my father has when I see him sitting behind the screen doing conference calls. A very weird facial expression and quite funny too. After those moments, I start to question whether I have had these traits for a long time, but had not noticed?
Gerardo, Miami Country Day School
I have become increasingly aware in the past few years just how similar my mother and I are, from our outside appearance to our inner personalities. Both of us are perceived as scholarly and transparent people, which are true. We are also unconventional, we enjoy trying new things, and we share an amazing sense of humor. Mostly, I am proud of the parallels in our personalities; they show that we have a lot in common while maintaining our individuality. Although — unlike the author Ms. Grose’s distress — I don’t feel extreme negative feelings about our similarities, sometimes I am frustrated by how much certain traits of mine mirror my mother’s. In the midst of giving directions to my younger sibling I’ve caught myself using the same commanding tone as my mother, for instance. We are also both impatient, which causes us to butt heads. Even so, I don’t think my mother is a parent who would “catastrophize about [their] children’s experiences and assume that what [their child] experiences will be as bad as what [they] have felt in [their] own lives” based on our shared traits, as those traits are not self-destructive. After all, as my mother says, “try to take the good from people, not the bad.”
Nathalia, Kenwood Academy – Chicago, IL
I look back at when I was younger and I find myself remembering the harshness of the raised-by-immigrants lifestyle. The pressure to meet expectations and do better in school. There were many things that I had to learn due to my surroundings that affected my parents. Since they were separated, it was even harder for me being so young. I notice sometimes that I have my dad’s anger issues and I lash out to the people I love even though I don’t mean to and five minutes later, I feel better or over the smallest things I get upset. I feel terrible and never want to be like my parents, but that’s the environment I grew up in. Now I find myself trying to leave the house as much as I can because of the things my mom doesn’t hide from me. Terrible partners and still trying to act twenty. That’s why I think I’ve picked the wrong people as well but that’s why many people don’t deserve kids but all kids deserve a parent.
Kimberly, New castle D
In terms of what I have in common with my parents I feel that I do have a bit of similarities from each of them but not as much as people think. I think that a lot of our similarities are very much surface level like the same music taste, how we are very open and silly around the people we love but can also be shy around people we don’t know. This is to say that I think there are a lot of differences between us fundamentals like the different perspectives on how we see the world, religion, or even things like the value of family.
Melinda, Polytechnic high school
When I was younger, my mom was the person who I strived to be: strong and beautiful, kind with a warm smile. She’s who I knew I’d grow up to be. Who I wanted to be. As I’ve gotten older, it’s changed. Not a lot, but enough. I don’t want to be her, I want to be like her. Have her good qualities and a caring heart. When people meet my mom and me for the first time, or it’s their first time seeing us together, they’ll say things like “Oh my gosh, you look so much like your mom!” or “You and your mom look like sisters.” Even though I don’t see it at all, it makes me feel weird. Do I just look like my mom, or do I act similarly as well. If I’m aiming to be her clone, I’m not giving myself space to grow and be my own person. So I guess I’m saying that as I grow up, I want to keep the amazing characteristics I got from my mother while still letting myself be who I am without feeling like I have to be exactly like her.
Minya, J.R. Masterman School
Personally, I don’t have much in common with the adults that raised me. I may share aspects of their lingo and maybe physical characteristics, despite those aspects and characteristics, I am very different from my parents. My mother and I often have conversations about how much we differ and it’s strange because we share interests; however, we can’t talk about those interests because we have differing opinions and opposing stances even on the interests we share … Although I didn’t inherit much from my mother, I did inherit my anxieties from her and so did all my siblings … My mother and father both love being around people and so do I. My mother likes to perform and that’s something we have bonded over but we clash heads there sometimes too because we like it for different reasons. To many we seem very similar but we both think we are very different.
Kaileigh, Maury High School- Norfolk V
I am and always have been an extremely outspoken individual prone to calling out a person’s bluff and any discrepancies in instructions or arguments. This I attribute to sitting down at 5:30 every night for years to watch the evening news with my grandma. We would yell at politicians on the TV when we saw an injustice or a law we didn’t agree with. My grandma taught me how to collect my thoughts, often encouraging me to write to legislators as an exercise in expressing my thoughts. Now, I argue with almost everyone. Maybe it’s not through yelling like I do at home, but asking the same question enough times until you finally get an answer is a pretty effective way to upset a science teacher and pointing out systematic failures and only partially thought through plans is a good way to direct the narrative at robotics meetings.
Claudia, Ames High School, Iowa
As someone who is adopted I’ve never been able to visibly share traits with my parents. All this said, I’ve noticed similarities in my personality. By no means are my parents perfect but I think they did a good job raising two children despite their circumstances. I’ve noticed I am fast to anger; just like my father. I also have my father’s same sense of humor so we always have a good laugh. I also share traits with my mother. Both my listening skills and my organization skills take after my mother. Finally, I would say everyone in my family cares deeply for humanity’s personal morals, which is a shared trait that makes me grateful to have parents that have made me care so much about what’s around me.
Ella, Glenbard West, High School
In “They Just Can’t Quit: Athletes Who Un-Retire,” Remy Tumin profiles players who have chosen to return to their sports careers. We asked students for their thoughts on comeback stories — both in and outside the world of sports.
Students shared their favorite comeback stories, and speculated on why a top athlete might struggle to make a definitive break from a sport. Here’s what they had to say:
I love comeback stories. My favorite was when Simone Biles took herself out of the 2021 Olympics and then she came back a few days later for the beam event finals. Shes always been one of my favorite gymnasts, so seeing her come back and fight for a title and overcome her struggles, inspired me to come back to the things I love and showed me that you can always come back to something when you’re ready to and you don't have to stay away from something forever.
Brianna, Baldwinsville
Yes, I love comeback stories whether it be someone coming from the bottom to the top or a sports team coming back from a lead that seemed impossible to overtake. Although I will say something that these stories do sometimes get repetitive especially in the film making industry, usually when it comes to superhero movies. The superhero always wins no matter the circumstances, these movies are often a little predictable as you know the character will never lose. But when it comes to sports, man is it thrilling, I get excited over seeing it on the TV but in person the roar of the crowd has to be unreal, almost euphoric.
Mauricio, Hoggard High School
I love comebacks because thanks to them sports are more entertaining, given that there are so many kinds of comebacks like someone getting back of a retirement or when it seems impossible to come back [in] a difficult match. My favourite comeback is Barcelona vs PSG when they traced a 4-0, the emotions that I felt were amazing. I think it’s so difficult to say goodbye to the sport that helped you when you were going through difficult moments and the effort you made to reach your goals is the most difficult thing and decision you can make in your life. That’s the reason I think that Tom Brady, Johan Cruyff and most of the athletes that come back since they regret to retire.
Oscar, Catalonia, Spain
I love a comeback story. The thrill and excitement of a player coming back from a scary injury, retirement, or maybe even from suspension or a mental break, is fun to watch. It is fun to see them come back regardless, It makes everyone excited and the energy levels go off the roof of the stadium and even better the best part of the comeback is seeing how well the player has improved. For example: We have the comeback story of NFL’s Former Chiefs Safety Eric Berry. In 2014 Eric Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and was hospitalized … When I heard about Eric Berry’s cancer situation, I never thought he would play football again. When his remission was announced, was completely blown away and happy for his return … He performed phenomenally in his comeback season: 14 Interceptions, 374 Yards, 5 Touchdowns. During his comeback season he managed to win the NFL’s “Comeback Player of The Year’‘ award. His story motivates me, a true symbol of strength. I believe because of that comeback, people if they work hard enough they can make that what seems impossible, possible.
Nicholas, W.T. Clarke HS, Westbury NY
The most interesting comeback story was the one about Michael Jordan because it was surprising to learn he played baseball. I think many professional players struggle to say goodbye to their respective sports because of their fans and teammates. I like comeback stories, I enjoy when people return, especially when the player used to be more popular or highly ranked and proceeds to return even better. One of these instances was recently when Do-hyeon “Pine” Kim made his return to Overwatch League. I have found it hard to say goodbye of many things, such as habits and people. These stories of athletes that return teach us that it’s hard to give up the things we love.
Michael, North High School
Kim Clijsters’ comeback story stood out to me most simply due to her reasoning for coming back to her sport. In her interview she stated, “I want to test myself again.” and I think that was the perfect response/reasoning that most athletes can abide by. To the public eye, athletes come back for the money because it was nice in the short run, but I believe they truly come back for the personal gains and reconstruction of themselves. It’s hard to say goodbye to something you love, just like saying goodbye to cousins that live in a different state than you, or saying goodbye to a sport that has had you in love since you were young. Ties to the heart cannot be broken easily and the feeling of that return is beyond refreshing. Seeing yourself get back into that mindset you were in, and just getting that feeling of adrenaline that kept you yearning for it. Once you find something you love and want to dedicate yourself to, there is no chance that you can leave without going back because it has become a piece of your heart forever.
Anthony, Chicago, Illinois
I think a comeback is a testament to one’s true passion for whatever it is they may be doing. Truthfully, it does take some of one’s pride to be able to say, “my decision was premature; I’m not ready to leave/retire.” As seen in the case with Tom Brady, I do not think he had realized the implications of retiring from something he had been a part of for twenty two years. I definitely do not consider myself a Tom Brady “fan,” but I can respect his acknowledgment that he was just not ready. He was not ready to leave the sport that was able to grant him untouchable athletic status, the title of “GOAT,” and perhaps a sense of fulfillment that he discovered he could not find elsewhere.
Ava, Los Angeles
I think that comebacks are great for people such as Tom Brady. I think that athletes retire from their career but then soon realize that they miss what they did for so long and were good at. They then make a comeback and that draws their fans to them and it’s almost like they never retired.
Gavin, Baldwinsville
I feel that athletes overall are extremely competitive people in every aspect of their life. I know that professional athletes spend hundreds, even thousands, of hours per year perfecting their craft. It starts to become the only thing in their life that’s truly been there for them through it all. Athletes can’t say goodbye to their sport because they want to be better, no matter how good they already are … It becomes a sort of addictive feeling for athletes. Putting up personal best times, winning another title, another match, another game, another race. Winning goes from something fun to something necessary for a lot of athletes. They know that they can keep winning, they know that if they really, truly test themselves, and push their limits again, they could make a comeback. Truly, athletes are most competitive with their own minds. Their body, age, or even other people say, “You can’t do it anymore.” Athletes’ minds are trained to say, “Watch this.” Defying odds, competing, and winning, are 3 things that athletes can’t say no to.
Meghan, Ames, Iowa
A reason why so many athletes come out of retirement could be they just don’t know what else to do. A lot of these professional athletes train their whole lives to get into the big leagues and put their all into staying there. I could imagine for many of these athletes … they don’t know what else to do. So they just come back because they likely feel at home doing what they know.
Mycah, Metro Heights Academy
I think so many athletes such as Tom Brady can’t say goodbye to their sports because it’s no longer a game to them, it’s a lifestyle. Getting into a major league sport requires skill, dedication and perseverance; why throw that journey away if you´re not content with what you´ve done? That’s probably how many athletes feel when giving away a sport they’ve put time into, no matter the level of mastery they’re at. The phrase ‟eat, sleep and breathe” a sport is actually reality for many of these players. They adjust their diet, exercise and possibly even social life to conform to their sport. Putting your entire self into a task is one of the most honorable things a person can do, and sports players that come out of their retirement are simply not ready to give their dream up.
Destiny, Valley Stream North High School
Learn more about Current Events Conversation here and find all of our posts in this column.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *