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.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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