THE BLOG
07/19/2013 10:15 am ET | Updated Sep 18, 2013

Advice for Parents of Millennials

Adults: You need to sit down and read "Adulting," a blog by a very wise Millennial, Kelly Williams Brown. A printed collection of the blog has been published under the same name, subtitled "How to Become a Grown Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps." It came to my attention via front-page coverage in The New York Times. "Adulting" is, in essence, a how-to manual for understanding the world of adulthood and easing into it. Williams tackles a swath of problems from career to relationships, to setting up utilities and managing a home. (And there are also tips about manners and etiquette.)

On her blog recently, Williams wrote a message to older generations who may be quick to condemn Millennials. For anyone who deals with young adults, from parents to employers, take a look at William's self assessment of her generation:

We grew up with a model, and set of assumptions, that proved untrue. During our childhoods, unemployment was low, houses gained in value, a bachelor's degree left you prepared for a variety of employment opportunities and investing was a sound decision. Now all of those things aren't the case. It's our job to deal with that, and that's fine. Generations have faced much worse. But it's easy to distrust a system that melted down so spectacularly just as it was time for us to buy into it.

When you look behind the curtain -- or the digital screen--of young adults, there's more anger and fear than most of us (meaning their parents) guessed. Instead of expressing their discontent and disappointment in the highly visible mode of former generations (riots in the streets, sit-ins on college campuses), they express their angst on social media, in blogs, and, I'm guessing, in fiction, too. The genuine despair of many Millennials is real, but not necessarily palpable or relatable to the rest of us.

Why do Millennials distrust the system? There are many answers: social, economic, and legal -- but the most honest answer is that Baby Boomers sold them a bill of goods.

We made them feel entitled to success in America -- and preached the American Dream -- but also pulled the rug out from under them by ransacking the economy for our own gain.

We stressed the importance of good healthcare -- and prevention! -- and then presented them with a system of health insurance that requires they work two jobs to afford coverage. (And we're not talking Dental coverage, even with two jobs.)

We touted the centrality of marriage and family, while often our own marriages were imploding in front of them.

We promoted parenthood as a key part of happiness, and then created a society where both parents must work to survive, and good, affordable childcare and flextime are the exception. At the same time, we tell Millennial women to "lean in," implying that the real problem is their ambivalence and timidity.

So, Millennials are complaining and delaying the buy-in to total adulthood. And a lot of the complaining is going on in their parents' homes because they cannot afford a place of their own.

My fear is they are only talking to each other, not to us. Yet, even if we've screwed the pooch on several major fronts, we can still be useful to this generation . . . by listening to them . . . and empathizing with them.

We didn't face identical challenges, but we certainly felt the combination of anxiety and culture shock that comes after the structure of formal education falls away, when kids graduate from college.

And as older adults, we do know a thing or two about entering and coping with the workplace, and dealing with the Baby Boomers who are still mostly in charge there. (I'm talking about basic things Millennials may not know, like "Never, ever look at your cell phone while your boss is talking to you.")

So instead of condemnation for a generation of "slacktivists," let's rally as family, neighbors and friends to let these kids vent openly, and to give them a hand. They don't need us as Friends or Followers. They need us to be grown ups, and to get this intergenerational conversation going.

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