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If you’re the parent of a Millennial, you face a greater communication challenge than your parents may have with you. While there’s always an uncomfortable divide between each generation and the next, the gap between previous generations and Millennials is a chasm. The explosion of the internet, first felt by Generation X, has completely changed the way we live and relate to the world at large—we’re now more connected than ever through the power of always-on broadband connections and ubiquitous social media. This is the environment in which Millennials have grown, and it has given this group a unique set of traits.

It seems like everybody loves to hate on Millennials. They’re called anything from narcissists to snowflakes to entitled brats by the media, their bosses, and yes—sometimes by their own parents. But these labels, for the most part, come from a place of deep misunderstanding. If you’re interesting in learning how to relate to your Millennial children, here are the essentials to understanding the mindset of their generation.

They’re Idealistic

If there’s anything that defines the Millennial generation, it’s their enduring idealism. While some might find this attitude unrealistic, out-of-touch, or naive, it’s anything but. Because Millennials are so deeply connected to global events, they know how bad things are, and their brand of optimism is tinged with realism, street smarts, and practicality.

Because of their idealism, Millennials believe that the world can be changed for the better. They’re kind, and they expect that same kindness of others. They don’t tolerate, for example, fear-based management styles at work, or unkindness toward those who break cultural norms in their social circles.

You might be tempted to label a Millennial as weak when they express discomfort at someone’s unkind words or deeds, but make no mistake—this isn’t weakness. They know how the real world works, but they also want to change it.

For Millennials, their strength comes in the form of unrelenting idealism, and the belief that the world can be changed through social reform. If you keep this in mind as you try to connect with your Millennial children, you’ll have a much better understanding of why they act as they do.

Try engaging them on issues, asking what they think could be done about a few social ills you may be concerned with—the instant connection you’ll forge will surprise you.

They’re Plugged In

Mention Millennials, and this picture nearly always comes to mind, but the real story behind this image is a great introduction to why the Millennial habit of being plugged in isn’t the scourge you might think it is.

This image is upheld as the “perfect metaphor for our age,” according to one Twitter user. “What a sad picture of today’s society,” tweets another, lamenting the state of the tech-obsessed Millennial mindset.

But, as it turns out, just about everybody got this picture wrong. The photographer who captured this moment, Gijsbert van der Wal, explains: “…I posted the photo on Facebook where, to my utter surprise, within a few days it was shared almost 9,500 times. The image was also reposted by others and shared on Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit. It went viral, with people often adding rather dispirited captions: today’s youth is more interested in Whatsapp than they are in Rembrandt.

On the other hand there were people who warned not to be misled by the image: they asserted that the students were in fact attentive to the art works, using the museum’s freely downloadable multimedia tour.”

These kids were using a special app, provided by the museum, that enriches visitors’ learning experiences by providing more information on the museum’s paintings.

Yes, Millennials are plugged in, but they’re using their connectivity not just for simple distraction. They’re leveraging this power to take in, and evaluate, as much information as possible so that they can make better choices.

So, the next time you see the phone come out during a family outing, your Millennial kid is probably looking at product reviews so that they can decide what to purchase at the next stop, or they may be conducting their banking through a convenient app.

To open up communication, try asking for help with your next major purchase. Your Millennial kids will probably jump on the chance to use their connectivity to help you out, and you just might learn something new in the process.

If you feel like the constant presence of electronics are placing a barrier between you and your kids, though, feel free to ask—kindly—for some real face-to-face interaction. The phones will go back in pockets, and you’ll get your wish.

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