Teens & Eye Rolling

by Emily Emmerman, MSW, ASW

It might be annoying to be on the receiving end of, but eye rolling is a form of communication for teenage girls. I myself was an extreme eye-roller my intermediate/high school years and it drove my parents WILD because it was “disrespectful” and oftentimes hurtful. As I have become a more mature adult, I’ve also noticed when teenage girls roll their eyes it’s usually in response to a few things:

  • a sore spot statement/question,
  • things they think are dumb,
  • or a defense mechanism against someone asking them to do things they don’t want to do (but know they probably should) but may not know how to verbally express this.

A lot of the times teenage girls are trying to figure out who they are, what they like, and  figure out their limitations on their independence – they are at this frustrating stage where they are treated like both a child and an adult – and it can be difficult to communicate the exacerbation, frustration, feelings of being stuck, and/or feelings of being disrespected. So, sometimes eye rolling is used as a defense mechanism or to communicate those harder feelings and emotions. It can be quite frustrating to be told to do something that you know (logically) makes sense but that you don’t actually want to do.

This isn’t to say that teenage girls don’t use it as a small form of aggression sometimes as well, but I think that a majority of the time it’s the easiest way to communicate disagreement/frustration or hurt without having to actually disagree verbally or show that they are hurt.

I don’t know – I could be wrong. But I try not to take eye-rolling personally, and will often times say something along the lines of “oooof, that was a pretty big response – what’s going on in that head of yours?” to better understand what they are thinking about and why they felt like they needed to roll their eyes as a response.

In sessions, I use this technique to help teach them to connect the behavior (eye rolling) with their emotion (frustration or stuckness) and then shift that into healthy communication or dialogue.  It’s my goal that over time they will learn to communicate these feelings and needs to the important people in their lives instead of the knee-jerk reaction to roll their eyes.

Emily Emmerman is a registered associate clinical social worker #103097 under the supervision of Jessica Wilkerson, LMFT 104464.  Emily has spent much of her professional career working with teens by going to the high school and working with them on campus and now she enjoys working at Inspired Life Counseling where she works with teens and also with parents for individual therapy to help them cope with the stress, anxiety, and fear that comes along with parenting teens.  To schedule with Emily, please call the office at (530) 809-1702 or click the button below!

​Emily provides sessions in-person for people in the Butte County area, and online to make accessing help convenient and easy from anywhere in California.