I am truly grateful for the chance to be a mother in this lifetime, and I have been proud to parent a generally wonderful daughter. There’ve been some difficult times over the years, for sure: those early days-and-nights of constant feeding and diaper changes; the challenge of her having an emotional bully among her friends in 3rd grade; and then there was her recent threat to start eating vegan!
None of these experiences properly prepared me for parenting a teenager, however. She turned thirteen less than three months ago, but she dived in with both feet, one hand tightly clamping her nose. The waves continue to splash about, but one effect that I’m going to appreciate today in all its glory is: the eye roll.
That’s right, the eye roll is a classic teenager move that hasn’t lost any currency with the times. The kids may be glued to their devices, watching TikTok when they aren’t Snapchatting, but they’re still practicing this age-old move. In fact, it’s kind of contagious and my optic nerves are feeling a bit stressed from my own indulgences in this department.
I’m one for defining systems as a way of better understanding the world, and I venture to say that there are at least three classes of eye-rolls. Let’s walk through them together, shall we?
Class 1 Eye Rolls
Class 1 eye rolls are the most standard and commonly-seen manouever: eyelids open and eyeballs rotating visibly. There are a couple of variations that I’ve observed within the Class 1 eye roll.
Class 1, Subtype A: The eyeball is quickly rotated upwards towards the sky, and then dropped back into place. The primary effect is a flashing white eyeball. If you aren’t watching her, though, you might just miss it.
Class 1, Subtype B: The eyeball is rotated in a grand gesture from left to right or right to left, with some upward movement as well – a kind of parabola effect, if you will. This one takes longer to perform and is never intended to be hidden or subtle. It will be repeated if you were so dense as to miss it.
Class 1, Subtype C: Performed along with either Subtype A or Subtype B, the eyelids are made to flutter as well. Like Subtype B, this variant absolutely takes the eye roll into performative territory – it’s meant to be noticed.
Class 2 Eye Rolls
Class 2 eye rolls are performed with the eyelids closed. My daughter seems to believe that this obscures her action such that it is invisible. She is wrong.
Class 2, Subtype A: Usually performed at the dinner table in a very rapid manner, the eyelids are held closed while a Class 1, Subtype A eyeroll is performed under the covers, so to speak.
Class 2, Subtype B: Adding to the air of mystery, the hair is allowed to fall across the face and further obscure the eyes-closed Class 2 eyeroll. Somehow, the self-conscious teenager believes that a lock of hair completely hides the entire face.
Class 2, Subtype C: Removing any mystery altogether, this type of eyes-closed eye roll is a Class 1, Subtype B that is performed in such a protracted way that it’s dead obvious what’s going on if you have her anywhere in your field of view. Try it with a friend, and note for yourself that eyelids do not, in fact, hide the movement of the iris and eyeball.
Class 3 Eye Rolls
Class 3 eye rolls pull out all the teenager stops: it’s a Class 1 eye roll of one subtype or other that’s also accompanied by a synchronous movement or vocalization. There’s nothing subtle about this class of eye roll.
Class 3, Subtype A: Any of the Class 1 subtypes is embellished with a frown. Typically this is not your average, small-scale frown, but a huge, almost distended downturn of both corners of the mouth. Picture something like those two despairing emojis…but with the eyes rolling, of course.
Class 3, Subtype B: Any of the Class 1 or Class 2 eye roll subtypes is also joined by a deep sigh or similarly protracted & world-weary sound. This type of eye roll says: “I am absolutely going to die of exasperation…or perhaps this exhalation.”
I freely admit this set is just a first stab at capturing the deep world of teenagers’ eye-rolls. I welcome other parents helping me categorize the fine and important distinctions to be made in this arena. What’s your teenager demonstrating via eye roll that would help us all to better understand this very delicate yet highly judgmental creature? Comments encouraged!