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Is Eye-Rolling Just a Teen Girl Thing?

Photograph by Getty Images

As is sometimes the case on the Internet, the real story is in the comments. A recent New York Times Motherlode guest post attempted to explain why teenage girls roll their eyes. The thing is? Boys roll their eyes, too, and commenters made sure to point that out.

Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist in Shaker Heights, Ohio, instructor at Case Western Reserve University and the director of Laurel School's Center for Research on Girls, basically said that teen girls roll their eyes as a way of expressing their annoyance.

Duh. *rolls eyes*

Damour goes a little deeper writing that the central force during adolescence is the drive for autonomy. So when you state the obvious as a parent, your not-a-little-girl-anymore responds with an eye-roll.

"Girls also use eye-rolling to communicate that an adult has crossed a line. If parents hold irrational expectations, make arbitrary rules, or recruit shame when ordinary anger would do, girls sometimes stick up for themselves by rolling their eyes. Teens who appear to be disrespectful rarely spur adults toward self-reflection, but eye-rolling may be the best defense a teenager can muster in a heated moment," she writes.

Maybe especially teenage girls?

Plenty of commenters jumped in reminding Damour that boys roll their eyes too. Little kids do, as well. Amour's professional focus, though, appears to be on teen girls. She is author of "Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood," so it's no wonder her short piece takes into account only female eye-rollers just before adulthood.

Still, it's misleading. Commenter Karen wrote, "What a bizarre, sexist premise. Only girls roll their eyes? Please. There are no data here—but somehow that's OK because we all accept that teenage girls are the worst things on the planet—it's a culture that we all participate in. The boys' behavior is fine (because boys will be boys and aren't they awesome?)—never mind all their risk-taking and mistreatment of one another. The girls' behavior? Terrible! Horrible! They all roll their eyes! It's in their DNA—which is just riddled with errors!"

Karen concludes with, "How about we more objectively talk about eye-rolling among teenagers in general? And then maybe we can have an insightful discussion."

It's true, Damour's explanation come mainly from her experience as a clinician and author. She doesn't put numbers to behaviors, only describes them, only speaks in terms of the received wisdom of what it's like to raise girls, be a mom, live with teen (girls).

"So how should a girl respond when her parents say she can't go out for the evening until she unloads the dishwasher?" Damour writes." She may see no point in fighting back, but still feel compelled to broadcast her objection."

Not to be too literal with her dishwasher example, but we can put numbers against the fact that boys are asked to do fewer household chores than girls.

And we have a cultural tendency to listen to men more than women. (Can we agree that starts when they're boys and girls?) So maybe if we had data, it would show that teen girls roll their eyes significantly more than boys because they feel more powerless than them.

An answer to the question put forth in the New York Times headline "Why Teenage Girls Roll Their Eyes" might be less a matter of separation from Mom and Dad, and more a way of living in an institutionalized and homelife reality that girls have fewer options for how they respond, either because push-back is less tolerated, or efforts not involving eyes weren't taken as seriously as her brother's.

Just something to think about. Quit rolling your eyes.

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