Millennial generation is proud to be American but not patriotic.

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As someone who spends his life creating programming for Millennials — and who works with a lot of them as well — I've been struck by recent images of young Americans packed into parks and spilling out of bars, draped in stars and stripes, cheering on the U.S. team during its thrilling World Cup run. They're wearing their love of country for all to see.

It's striking because young people in America often get a bad rap for a perceived lack of patriotism. A recent Pew study made headlines by noting that fewer Millennials describe themselves as "patriotic" than any other generation.

What is the disconnect here? At MTV, we're seeing that Millennials don't love their country any less — they are just reinterpreting patriotism through their own unique lens. In past generations, there's been a clear delineation between patriots and protesters, between those who dogmatically defend our country and those who criticize it just as vocally.

The Millennial audience won't be limited by the dichotomies of the past. Yes, Millennials are vociferous critics of our nation's flaws. But in a new study, MTV asked young people how they felt about our country — and 86% of Millennials described themselves as "proud to be an American."

Millennials love America as much as any generation. They just want to love it on their own terms. For young people, the word "patriotic" suggests a rigid acceptance of an ideology, an unquestioning fixation on a symbol or a flag that they feel misses their deep and complex relationship with their country.

For example, MTV interviewed Millennials about the Pledge of Allegiance. We asked them to dissect how the words they learned as children related to their attitudes today. Many of them, in hindsight, rejected the notion of "pledging allegiance," which sounded to them like obedience instead of choice. They preferred to speak about their "pride" and "commitment" to America — about dedicating themselves to their country as a personal choice, not binding compliance.

Millennials believe that self-expression is America's greatest good. Over 90% of young people feel it's essentially American to be free to express yourself and your opinions.

That includes raising your voice when you feel your country is in the wrong. Young people realize that America has deep issues along with its myriad opportunities. They believe that advocating for change is an essential part of being American.

"Having American pride is about loving the country, but still acknowledging that we have faults as a nation and society," said one young person we interviewed.

"I see American pride as acknowledging the wrongs that America has done to other countries, but still [being] proud of the good things our country has done for the world," said another.

Millennials don't believe you have to adhere rigidly to one side or the other. That's why it's no surprise that the Pew study found that more Millennials identify as politically independent than as Democrats or Republicans combined.

Often, Millennials turn to humor to express that combination of pride and criticism. It's the South Park, Colbert Report mentality that you can both celebrate our strength and laugh at our absurdities — and that the very act of laughing at our country makes our democracy stronger.

Just look at "#Merica," a Millennial meme that's swept across social feeds and college theme parties over the past two years. The viral idea embraces both the greatness and the follies of American culture. An image of an oversized plate of fried chicken and waffles could earn the #Merica hashtag. So could a pickup truck driving into the sunset behind a sweeping mountain vista.

Millennials realize how lucky they are to have the right to criticize the government. Young people today have a more global perspective than older generations. The 24-hour news cycle and Twitter have exposed them to stories and imagery from around the world. They see what can happen in Egypt when citizens criticize the new government or in Uganda when ordinary people dare to express themselves. They recognize their good fortune.

They also see how America's influence and resources can be used to confront global issues. Millennials conceive of themselves as "global citizens." Young people are significantly likelier to give to global causes over local causes than Boomers or Gen Xers. They believe the solutions to worldwide problems can originate on our shores, even if sometimes we get it wrong.

John F. Kennedy said, "Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive." Young people are rooting for our nation, questioning it and challenging it, and pushing America to improve. Freed from the strict division between patriot and protester, Millennials are making our country stronger.

Stephen Friedman is the president of MTV.

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