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The Teen Eye Roll: Sass or Self Expression?

Teen eye-rolling: the bane of every parent’s sanity, typical expressive device, or somewhere in between? Let’s discuss.

According to a well-known dictionary, eye-rolling expresses exasperation, disbelief, or disapproval. So this means all of us parents of teens are just wrong, wrong, wrong…all of the time! I realize that eye rolls are associated with teen girls, but the teen boys in my life roll their eyes almost as much, so I argue it is not unique to the female gender.

Both my teens frequently express disgust at things Dad and Mom have to say with an eye roll. According to experts, this is absolutely the most normal thing in the world, despite how much it disturbs parents. Teens need to express their independence and disagreement with what we adults have to say in a non-confrontational manner. One communication expert warns that eye-rolling means different things to different people and that we should use caution when jumping to conclusions as to what is meant by the gesture. Most experts recommend ignoring eye-rolling unless you are going to exercise outstanding self-control and use it as a conversation opener.

Growing up, I eye rolled quite a bit and didn’t even notice. How do I know then that I rolled my eyes? My dad made fun of me and eye rolled right back. There is nothing more likely to cause a teenager to either stomp off in a huff or bring the opposite reaction of laughing until crying than to see a 60-year-old man performing an exaggerated eye roll.

I asked my daughter when and why she rolls her eyes. She said, “[I do it] when I am annoyed or when someone says something stupid.” I am pretty sure I saw an eye roll as she was answering that question.

When I quizzed my friends about the use of this expression in their homes, I received a variety of responses.

My neighbor Rebecca said, ”I kind of find the eye roll humorous. It is a mode of expression that really doesn’t bother me. Better the eye roll than to hear the words they’re probably thinking when they do the eye roll!” I totally agree.

Allison said she preferred the eye roll over the glare: “[The] eye roll is dismissive, the glare is disdainful.” She also pointed out that she thinks it bothers her husband more than it bothers her. “I wonder if this correlates to teenage girls doing it more, so we (mothers) aren’t bothered by it as much?”

Several of my friends who are parents of preschoolers have noticed that even their little ones eye roll. When I was talking about writing this article, my friend Priscilla said, “Whaaat?!!? The eye roll gets worse? My five-year-old knows everything, and with this knowledge came this new phenomenon called the eye roll!” McKenze told me her “fournager” is an expert at it as well. Apparently, kids today are very advanced and find us parents ridiculous earlier than you’d expect.

One of my friends, who will remain nameless to slightly protect her daughter’s anonymity, says she loves the eye roll because her daughter cannot do it, so it always lightens the mood.

My friend and fellow ACMB contributor Denise asked, “Wait a minute. Which eye roll exactly? From mom or teen?” This made me laugh because I still roll my eyes and my husband calls me out on it all of the time. I did a little research and discovered that, according to relationship expert John Gottman, eye-rolling is a sign of contempt, which is the number one cause of divorce… I sure hope not! But maybe I will be a little more self-aware. Writer’s note: my husband is very amused by the “more self-aware” statement. Apparently, he finds my eye-rolling funny and not contemptuous. Perhaps self-awareness may not be one of my strengths…

Many of my friends said that eye-rolling was limited to a particular time in their children’s teenagehood and then disappeared. From what they reported it appears that adults are only stupid and ridiculous for varying short times that may correlate with teens testing their independence and freedom. This appears to be somewhere between freshman and senior year of year of high school, though some have reported eye-rolling by middle school-aged children.

“I’ve always said that something happens with the onset of puberty where eyes roll at seemingly insignificant provocation, sighs come up and out with more and more frequency, and lips stop moving when talking to adults. It’s a mystery!” says Nancy who is not only a mom, but also a child psychology expert.

Whatever the reasons behind all of the teenaged eye rolls, remember it is a “safe” way for your teen to test his/her autonomy, and it is probably best if we don’t engage. Let’s remember who the grownups are in our parent-child relationships…even if we still use the eye-roll ourselves.

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One Response to The Teen Eye Roll: Sass or Self Expression?

  1. Kim December 12, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

    I yeah I can close my eyes and picture THE EYE ROLL – on many different family members’ faces. Great writing – looking forward to the next.