If you have ever had a teenager in your life, you are doubtless familiar with the “eye roll.” The exaggerated skyward glance is an especially common response to well-meaning advice such as, “Take a jacket. It’s cold outside.”
Parents and teachers may be offended by eye rolling, but perhaps they shouldn’t be. As Lisa Damour, psychologist and clinical instructor at Case Western Reserve University, writes in The New York Times, “Eye-rolling serves a variety of purposes, and the meanings behind the mannerism tell us a lot about what it’s like to be a teenager.”
According to Damour, adolescents hate being told what to do, and will reflexively resist suggestions -- even when they agree! They may take that jacket you suggested, but not without asserting their budding sense of autonomy with an eye roll. Or take a situation where an adult lays down the law and the teenager sees no point in fighting back, but still feels compelled to broadcast an objection. “Again,” says Damour, “ophthalmic calisthenics offer a useful solution.”
Eye rolls can also be employed when adults embarrass kids or have irrational expectations. Sure, they can be used dismissively or mockingly at times—but before adults over-react, they should consider that “more often than not, teenage eye-rolling serves as an efficient solution to the typical challenges posed by adolescence. And it presents adults with a choice: We can take the behavior personally, or we can try to see things from the teenage perspective.”
We want to hear: Is there a teen in your life who frequently rolls eyes at you? What have your best responses been? Do you recall doing this as a teenager? To join the conversation, click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion.