I swapped out 'millennials' in headlines for something better. It made a huge difference.

Ah, millennials...

At once destroyers of worlds and lazy slackers who won't move out of our parents' houses, we're all-purpose punching bags for society at large.

We're also ferocious killers. Did you know that we're responsible for the death of consumerism, the American Dream, Applebee's, marriage, boobs, beer, home ownership, the oil industry, and the future of humanity itself? Not bad, right? With so many contradictions, we're what Winston Churchill might have described as a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."


With no clear start and no clear end, the term "millennial" has mostly become a stand-in for "youths" in angry "kids these days"-style news stories.

There's just one major problem: We're not kids.

Pew Research defines a millennial as anyone born between the years 1981 and 1996. In 2018, that's most everyone age 21 to 37.

Other sources might have slightly different start and end dates for the qualifying range, but the point is, we're not pre-teens. And yet, the way the label of millennial is used, it certainly gives that impression.

"Have millennials killed the political primary system?" JK JK JK this is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrating her primary victory in New York's 14th congressional district. Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images.

When AL.com asked readers if we should elect more millennials to Congress, responses demonstrated just how much people misunderstand what the term means.

While those in favor of more millennials in Congress mentioned the benefits of having more diverse representation, those opposed clung to tired and factually inaccurate stereotypes.

"No! F--- no! Not until they get some life experiences! If this past presidential election taught you anything, it should've taught you millennials don't have life experiences to know how to vote. Living off of your parents doesn't give you life experiences," wrote one Twitter user.

(According to Pew Research, only 13% of people aged 30-34 live with a parent.)

"Until you are working on your own, off your parents health insurance, and paying real taxes I don't think you should be able to to be elected to Congress," wrote another.

(Parental health care expires at age 26, and anyone whose income meets a certain minimum must pay taxes regardless of age.)

"Not until they learn personal responsibility at least," wrote a third.

In all three of these examples, it's clear respondents don't have an accurate demographic understanding of what a millennial is.

Author Summer Brennan came up with a really interesting idea aimed at getting people to accurately understand the term "millennial."

Every time you see a headline that mentions "millennials," she suggests, consider whether it'd sound any more ridiculous if you replaced it with "adults under 40." In the examples above, for instance, the implication that adults under 40 don't have their own health care, pay taxes, or have any life experience sounds a little absurd.

Your reaction to the experiment might help determine whether or not you're viewing "millennial" as a group of young- to middle-aged adults with diverse views and experiences or as a buzzword loaded with years of negative press. (And yes, yes, I know, Pew's classification puts the cap on millennials at 37, not 40, but as I said, this can vary.)

Let's take a look at what a few other "millennial" headlines would look like if we used Brennan's trick. Do they seem a little silly?

The Economist recently asked why millennials weren't buying diamonds. Think about it rationally, and you'll realize it could have something to do with the fact that we entered the workforce at roughly the same time that the entire economy was in total free fall and haven't really recovered.

When you swap the headline to read "adults under 40," this becomes much more clear:

GIF via The Economist/Twitter.

Inc. put together an explainer for people trying to understand why millennials are so "entitled." Swap in "adults under 40," and suddenly that headline just looks poorly thought out.

GIF via Inc./Twitter.

The Guardian told its readers that La Croix sparkling water was virtually a religion to millennials. Reframing that headline reveals it to be an odd, unfounded claim.

GIF via The Guardian/Twitter.

This thought exercise can be applied to all sorts of issues, not just debates about whether millennials are the worst.

The way we frame conversation plays a big role in how we view the world. If specific words and phrases didn't have the power to change minds, marketing firms would have no reason to exist.

For instance: In 2009, political strategist Frank Luntz wrote a memo encouraging Republican members of Congress to change their vocabulary in order to derail Democrats' efforts to pass health care legislation. Luntz found that the public generally favored health care reform, so in order for Republicans to successfully oppose it, he urged them to instead refer to health care reform as the "Washington takeover" of America's health system.

While the Democrats' law was eventually passed, Luntz's rhetoric generated a lot of confusion around the health care debate that year. That confusion made it a political liability for Democrats and ultimately led to a thrashing during the 2010 midterm elections.

Frank Luntz in 2009. Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival.

The same concept applies to the immigration debate. When you replace innocuous terms like "undocumented immigrant," "asylum-seeker," or "refugee" with far more loaded words like "illegal immigrants" or the even more dehumanizing "illegals," the debate shifts again. As pundits switch out adjectives for buzzwords, it becomes harder to remember that these discussions are about actual human beings.

The "millennials" vs. "adults under 40" trick is a doorway to untangling a lot of the learned rhetoric we've been taught to use on a number of issues.

Next time you read a story that evokes a powerful emotion, take a deep breath and mentally swap out buzzwords to see if you still feel the same.

True

This year more than ever, many families are anticipating an empty dinner table. Shawn Kaplan lived this experience when his father passed away, leaving his mother who struggled to provide food for her two children. Shawn is now a dedicated volunteer and donor with Second Harvest Food Bank in Middle Tennessee and encourages everyone to give back this holiday season with Amazon.

Watch the full story:

Over one million people in Tennessee are at risk of hunger every day. And since the outbreak of COVID-19, Second Harvest has seen a 50% increase in need for their services. That's why Amazon is Delivering Smiles and giving back this holiday season by fulfilling hundreds of AmazonSmile Charity Lists, donating essential pantry and food items to help organizations like Second Harvest to feed those hit the hardest this year.

Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a local food bank or charity in your community, or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your selected charity.

via Brittany Kinley / Facebook

Brittany Kinley, a mother from Mansfield, Texas, had a hilarious mom fail her and she's chalking it up to being just another crazy thing that happened in 2020.

When Kinley filled out the order form for her son Mason's kindergarten class pictures, there was an option to have his name engraved into the photos. But Kinley wasn't interested in having her son's name on the photos so she wrote "I DON'T WANT THIS" on the box.

Well, it appears as though she should have left the box blank because the computer or incredibly literal human that designed the photographs wrote "I DON'T WANT THIS" where mason's name should be.

Keep Reading Show less
True

A lot of people here are like family to me," Michelle says about Bread for the City — a community nonprofit located in Washington DC that provides local residents with food, clothing, health care, social advocacy, and legal services. And since the pandemic began, the need to support organizations like Bread for the City is greater than ever, which is why Amazon is Delivering Smiles to local charities across the country this holiday season.

Watch the full story:

Amazon is giving back by fulfilling hundreds of AmazonSmile Charity Lists, and donating essential pantry and food items to help organizations like Bread for the City provide to those disproportionately impacted this year.

Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a local charity in your community, or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your charity of choice.
popular

Funny how a 'new' male problem is a very old problem for women. Amy Poehler explains.

Not many people are brave enough to talk back to the guy who co-created "Chappelle's Show" when he says something kinda clueless. But not many people are Amy Poehler.

Men struggle to comprehend the pressures women feel. The same is true of women!

Gah! We'll never get along.

This conversation between comedian Neal Brennan and Amy Poehler is a pretty good example of how hard it can be to figure life out sometimes.

Neal, the genius who co-created "Chappelle's Show," sat down with Amy for his show "The Approval Matrix." The topic? WHAT are men supposed to be now? Cool? Adorkable? Both? Neither?

Keep Reading Show less
via UDOT / Facebook

In December 2018, The Utah Department of Transportation opened the largest wildlife overpass in the state, spanning 320 by 50 feet across all six lanes of Interstate 80.

Its construction was intended to make traveling through the I-80 corridor in Summit County safer for motorists and the local wildlife.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that there were over 100 animal incidents on the interstate since 2016, giving the stretch of highway the unfortunate nickname of "Slaughter Row."

Keep Reading Show less