By: Allie Scully | Original illustration by Jess Hock
If you feel out of touch with your millennial or Gen Z children/grandchildren, you’re definitely not alone. These younger generations tend to favor texting or DMing over phone calls, and a lot of communication can get lost in translation this way. Millennials and Gen Z grew up surrounded by rapidly progressing technology, and communicating via text and email is what feels normal and comfortable. It’s fair to assume anyone under the age of 35 hates talking on the phone, which can be frustrating if that’s your preferred method.
Perhaps you follow your younger relatives on social media and puzzle over their memes, status updates, general nihilism, and increasingly liberal politics. You might genuinely worry for their well-being, which is fair, considering the cultural chaos millennials and Gen Z’ers have inherited.
They’re experiencing unprecedented events you may not have predicted in your own youth: graduating college into a dismal economy, a global pandemic, a Trump presidency. Their resulting politics might feel incomprehensible and absurd, and seem a sore subject to discuss during holiday gatherings.
Communication Among Different Generations Can Be Complicated
I’m a millennial, and my only surviving grandparent is my mother’s father, Charles. He’s the one I’ve had the least contact with over the years. He and my mom aren’t that close. I think she was closer with her mother, whom he divorced in her childhood, and whom has long since passed. I saw much more of my father’s parents, but they died when I was seven and 13. We never had a chance to argue about politics, but they were Catholic and originally from Long Island, NY, so it’s probably for the best.
When it comes to politics, my parents and I clash horrifically. I relocated from Texas to New York when I was 18, where I still live, and have developed very liberal politics as an adult. I tend to prioritize social issues over capital, which to many in the Boomer generation might seem irresponsible. My own parents are definitely disturbed by some of my choices (as I am by theirs), but I try not to blame them for what I perceive as incredibly regressive beliefs. I understand they and I came of age in wildly different circumstances.
However, I do wish my parents would listen to me sometimes. Instead of engaging in meaningful communication, they immediately shut me down and tell me I am wrong. They attribute my adult opinions to some imagined form of brainwashing by the “liberal media.” My father especially refuses to acknowledge I am an adult. It feels a bit like gaslighting. A lot of my family members are like this.
So, I was genuinely shocked and pleasantly surprised when my grandfather, Charles, a native Texan, started “liking” some of my Facebook statuses. He agreed with me and expressed support regarding my rage over the recently passed Heartbeat bill, which is perhaps the most meaningful surprise to me. My own father will never understand my point of view, here, so it’s moving to me that a patriarchal family member of his generation would support my beliefs (and reproductive rights).
Ways to Communicate with Younger Family Members
If you’re worried about communicating with your millennial and Gen Z family members, try sincerely engaging with them on heated topics instead of shutting them down. It can start with social media, like responding to Facebook posts or Instagram stories. If you prefer to stay away from social media, send them a text or email. Maybe you’ll have a chance to talk with them directly in person. Whichever form of communication you choose, keep your mind and heart open to what they have to say — because you’ll likely be surprised by the depth of their experiences.