‘Don’t call me a Millennial’: How to stop stereotyping young people

“Ugh, I hate that word.”

My twentysomething friend’s nose wrinkled at the mention of the word “Millennial,” as if it reeked of dog breath and gym socks.

“Why don’t you like it?” I asked.

“Because it’s so negative — and it’s not ME. I am none of those things.”

“Those things” include the stereotypical traits of a Millennial:

  • addicted to social media
  • self-absorbed
  • selfie happy
  • delayed adolescence that lasts well into the twenties
  • shallow faith
  • unmotivated
  • uncommitted

My friend was right. She wasn’t any of these things. In fact, she is the opposite of all of them.

She purposely abstains from social media a good portion of the time and loves to serve others, often going the extra mile.

SHE AMAZES ME with her selfless giving of resources. She is quick to listen and eager to learn. Does she have blind spots? You bet, just like all of us do. But she cares about finding them and understanding how to overcome them.

Not for one red hot second do I believe she is an anomaly. 

But in talking with those of us in the older generations, it seems we are still convinced these stereotypes are widely true and therefore justified.

Consider where stereotypes come from

They come from our human inclination to categorize things and people into easily memorable slots in our brains, so say researchers.

As we take in information about a large segment of the population, for instance, our brains want to easily define this large amalgam of people. Nuance is often overriden in favor of focusing only on strings of similarities. Those similarities then become dominate characteristics in our collective minds.

In other words, “stereotypes begin with a ‘kernel of truth’ that subsequently gets inflated into a widely held truism regarding a group of people.”

In other other words, stereotypes are by their vary nature a fallacy.

Take time to listen — really listen — to young adults

And by listen, I mean value. It is totally possible to value and not agree with their points of view. Just like it is totally possible their points of view may very well change yours.

Speaking from experience here.

Purposefully connect with young adults

If you are at all concerned about the future of this world (and if you’re not, we have a bigger issue to discuss), I implore you to make it a priority to bring along those coming after you. And I don’t necessarily mean only those who are related to you.

Nearly every young adult, whether they have a good relationship with their parents or not, desire connection with older generations.

Research guru George Barna wrote in his 1995 book Generation Next:

“Taking the time to have a positive impact [on young people] is more than just ‘worth the effort’; it is a vital responsibility of every adult and a contribution to the future of our own existence.”

Vital responsibility. Of every adult.

That’s you. That’s me. That’s us.

Coming alongside the next generation is vital because what we possess — this worldview, work ethic, skills, love, leadership, generosity, grace, wisdom, faith — cannot be wished upon the next generation. 

It has to be TAUGHT. By US. It must be poured into them. By US.

This is an active, laborious thing George is talking about here. To give these character traits a realistic chance of outliving us means we have to invest them into the young people coming after us.

The handoff is a huge undertaking and requires all of us, working in unity among ourselves and with them, in order to see success.

There is no other way. So bear up arms, older generations. It’s time to get to work.

Call them by their name, not their generation

The single surest way to show someone value and respect is to call them by their name. Of course, in order to call them by their name, you have to be close enough to them in order to know their name.

So go ahead. Reach out to a young person in your workplace, neighborhood, gym, church, family or friends circle. Bring him/her along with you in your daily walk. Let them learn from you side-by-side as you go.

It doesn’t have to be anything formal, nor does it have to be vocation-specific. It just needs to be.

“This generation is hungry for connection with the wisdom and friendship of the previous generations,” says Pastor Karl Vaters.

If this is true (and it is), how will you respond?

As Jesus once asked, which of us would give a stone to a child who asks for bread? (Matthew 7:9)

Don’t be a stoner. Be a feeder.

 

Much love,

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