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Top Annoying Teen Behaviors: Eye-rolling

by James Lehman, MSW
Top Annoying Teen Behaviors: Eye-rolling

Most everyone who’s ever been a teenager learns at some point how to irritate their parents to distraction. From eye-rolling to back-talking, teens have a seemingly endless supply of habits that push their parents' buttons. Recently, Empowering Parents asked our readers what the most annoying teen behaviors were, and the answers came pouring in from frustrated parents all over North America. Here, James Lehman, MSW helps you deal with eye-rolling, number 7 on the EP list of “Top Annoying Teen Behaviors.”


Eye-rolling is a piece of cake to deal with. Like all annoying behaviors, it is meant to accomplish two things: It’s a little rebellious, and is also somewhat “power-challenging.” In either case, ignoring it is the perfect solution. Many parents feel that when kids roll their eyes, they’re being disrespectful or somehow challenging their authority. I say, “So what?” If you acknowledge eye-rolling and argue about it, you’re giving your child power he didn’t earn by being productive. The simple answer? Don’t acknowledge it. I guarantee you that if you ignore eye-rolling it will either go away or become comical to you. I suggest you say what you have to say to your kids, and then don’t wait for the eye-rolling. If you’re in a conversation where eyes are being rolled, just keep focusing on what you want to communicate. Like many annoying behaviors, it’s harmless, and the best way to deal with harmless, annoying behaviors is to ignore them.

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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


Eye rolling is one thing but what they start laughing at you while you are directing them on their misbehavior. Whta do you do then?

Comment By : cm, Virginia Beach

Great article. We give our kids so much power by allowing these kinds of things to get to us and we feel like we'd lose face or authority if we didn't address it. It's nice to know we can just let it go, let it slide right off and walk away, maybe with a small grin to let them know their tactic didn't work. It's about picking your battles, and this says to me this isn't one that needs fighting. yay! :-)

Comment By : Wendy

Boy does my 16 year old daughter do the eye rolling thing. are so right, if you ignore it, it bothers her even more. She knows that those kind of behaviors do nothing to upset me. But...believe me, it took me about 18 months to learn to ignore those kinds of actions. Remember, that is not the issue or the important thing.

Comment By : Carol

I have to confess, when my daughter was around 15, we got into some arguments, and we both ended up rolling our eyes. When she told me how it made her feel when I rolled my eyes (disrespected, minimized, etc.), we made a vow to erase the eye-rolling from our disagreements. If one of us caught the other rolling her eyes, we would point it out and, after apologizing, would proceeded to complete the "discussion" in a more respectful manner. It has changed how I communicate with my children, and I'm grateful I'm not perpetuating the bad habit. I'm glad she pointed it out to me.

Comment By : Cheri

Great comment from Cheri! We as parents get so wrapped up in how our kids are treating us with disrpespect that we forget that we have to show them respect too. Set an example. (That doesn't mean that you let them get away with stuff, but you treat them like you want to be treated-with consideration, thoughtfulness, kindness.)

Comment By : Diana

Great comment from Cheri! We as parents get so wrapped up in how our kids are treating us with disrpespect that we forget that we have to show them respect too. Set an example. (That doesn't mean that you let them get away with stuff, but you treat them like you want to be treated-with consideration, thoughtfulness, kindness.)

Comment By : Diana

I do ignore the eye rolling and it's not too bad but every once in awhile she starts up again and sometimes it's hard not to say anything! But you're right, ignoring it does make it go away (for awhile anyway)!

Comment By : Monica in Virginia

Eye rolling ,etc. are not just teenage behaviors. My 9 yr. old (almost 10), 4th grader is quite good at this. I will try to ignore this, and look forward to learning how to deal with the other issues.

Comment By : b.r. ky

I have got students doing the eye rolling tactic during classes. I just ignore them and continue to teach. Now they ar better, still not perfect but have stopped their eye rolling tactic!

Comment By : catherine

its funny, before reading this article I had an eye rolling incident. she did crawl under my skin. I wish I would have read this before because I would have ignored her.

Comment By : dad

when my girls eyeroll i wanted to .......! but then i realized lets see how serious it is. is it a sign of disobedience? so now when they do that i ask them is this are u having a seisure? no? ok moving along.... and make my point!

Comment By : gigi

We're all human and it does take a little awareness to realize, that for every eye roll from my daughter, I probably also do something unconsciously that is similarly annoying to her...and it usually happens when I react to the eye roll. As a parent, I realize this is not an "arms race" and every action doesn't call for a reaction...a deep breath (privately) usually can suffice.

Comment By : LI Dad

* To CM in Virginia Beach: The thing is, both eye rolling and smirking and laughing are in the same family of tactic's kids use to turn the tables on you and engage you in a power struggle. The less power you give the laugh, the better. I'm not trying to minimize how frustrating it can be but,believe me, the less power you give it, the quicker it will go away. I'm not sure what the actual incident was, but there are certain things you can do if the laughing crosses the line of disrespect. First, if the laughter is loud or obnoxious, walk away. When things quiet down, calmly explain to the child that laughing in your face will be considered disrespectful and will automatically lead to 2 hours loss of phone time, followed by a brief discussion of what she'll do differently next time she feels disrespectful. Then walk away. When she laughs again, cut off communication and take the phone for 2 hours. Walk away. Don't argue, fight or justify your reasoning. Just do it. Don't process why she was disrespectful later, just what she plans to do differently. This would not be appropriate for eye-rolling or other passive reactions. And remember, they move out eventually.

Comment By : James Lehman, MSW

the eyerolling is very annoying and it does stop if you ignore it most of the time. But I can say the backtalking is the worst.That you really can't ignore. It drives me nuts.

Comment By : litpeanut

i agree with litpeanut - eyerolling you can learn to ignore but the back talk or the flippant remarks and whining that typically follow a request from myself or my husband, that drives me crazy! I have two teenage girls (16 and 14) and seriously, hope that I can make it through the next few years. My 16 yr old is getting better, so I hope that's the end of it for her. Oh yeah, I have a 3 yr old too - so *#*%#*% ... i;ve got to go through it again in ten more years!

Comment By : Nicole, Canada

My daugher is 11 and tells me that her friends practice eye rolling and they tell her she is not good at it, so she is practicing on me. I told her she does a great job of eye rolling every time she does it, so I can go from "tight" to "light." (it does annoy me slightly, but I am sort of amused too) It's good to know that ignoring it helps it to go away.

Comment By : terithomps

I like gigi response to the eye rolling! I think that would have the child thinking instead of rolling the eyes but it brings attention to the fact that you've noticed them. What will be next? Back talking! We have to stop that right away, but what's the best way????

Comment By : mom of teen


Comment By : LISAV!

What did all of us parents do about the back talking? We all need answers to that question. I have enjoyed reading all the articles and have learned a whole lot to help me with my parenting skills.

Comment By : Penne

Ignoring the eye rolling is great, but what does it teach your child about the disrespectful behavior? I would be horrified if my child did the eye rolling towards another adult. I believe that it is every parents' responsibility to stop unwanted and disrespectful behavior in the home if they do not want their children to display these same behaviors in public. How do you suggest dealing with that issue?

Comment By : armymom

This stuff is great!!! Furthermore I feel relieved to see many others go through the same thing as I do. As many others have said ignoring is the best. What is annoying for me is raising her voice even if I am trying to say something in a calm way. How do you address that?

Comment By : Eve

The article and comments are helpful. My daughter had begun eye-rolling before she really learned to talk, so I can (usually) visit it with humor or ignore it. I do share armymom's concern, however, on this and other issues. If I let her "get by" with such disrespectful behavior (eye-rolling, not looking at the adult when she doesn't like the content of conversation, etc.), isn't she learning that it is OK to act that way with other authority figures?

Comment By : Dorothy

I can say with assurance that mimicking her behaviour doesn't work...

Comment By : jeanjie

Never arguing, fighting, or justifying our actions as parents takes extreme self control. However, our example of walking away from a fight is actually what more of our children and our society need to see. Good comments and article.

Comment By : jg

I agree the eyerolling is annoying and the times I have acknowledged it only led us off track. However, the back talk is a whole other issue. I see other parents have that concern and I would like to share my experience. My now 15 year old used to back talk often, raise her voice and talk to me (not so much my husband) as her equal. Our therapist recommended I ignore it similar to the eye rolling and she will stop. Well in 9 out of 10 kids that may happen but with her she raised the stakes and became horribly abusive. I am embarrassed to repeat the things she has said to me and called me. It wasn't until I got the Total Transformation tapes that I finally got the courage (yes courage) to address it. I would say 'Don't talk to me that way, I don't like it.' It sounded stupid and often she would say she didn't care or ask what I was going to do about it but I ignored those things and left the ball in her court. Quickly she stopped doing and saying these things and now, only occasionally does she slip back into it. That was the biggest problem in this house and altho we still have many issues to overcome I feel better knowing tha we have addressed the biggest disrespectful act of all.

Comment By : bischmd

Great article and great comments! I like the "Are you having a seizure?" comment. Humor always seems to help stressful situations. Picking battles is so important-it cuts down on frustration and stress.

Comment By : ojulieo!

I can't believe that anyone would even been offended by eye rolling to such a degree that you read/write articles about it. It seemed so ridiculous that I just had to see for myself. My kids roll their eyes at me, but you got to realise they do it to anyone even each other. I just see that my kids disapprove whatever they're refering to, not much more. Instead of "dealing with it" or "fighting over it" I just acepted that this facial expression, is just a modern way of communication amongst young people. The only one making a BIG deal of it; is you guys and maybe you need to grow up more than your teen(s). On the other hand, back talk is anyoing. But I believe a young person coming up to the 18 years mark should be able make their own descions in behaviour and attitude. Talking back sometimes is the only way a young person has to fight back against our unreasonable arguements and conditions. Talking back ain't always so black and white as people make it out to be, teen moods has something to do with it. But we are parents; not local law enforcement, although our care and love still resides.

Comment By : Kay

Generally I just refused to talk to my kids when they were disrespectful verbally. I never said much about the eye rolling, because it was kind of a joke in our house. Everybody except my husband rolled our eyes a lot. Generally over his inane jokes. When my daughter got verbally abusive after getting 'no' at WalMart, I grounded her for two weeks, saying "no" to everything she wanted. Yes, everything, from 'will you fix pancakes' to 'will fix my hair'. Everything. I had no problem with her not taking no for an answer for about 5 years. At 17, she did it again, and all I had to do was remind her about the two weeks of no answering everything, and that was the end of the mouthing.

Comment By : sandi

my 14 yr old son has been rolling his eyes and sort of blowing/snorting when something doesn't suit him. my pat answer is that no matter how far you can roll your eyes in the back of your head or snort and huff like a mad bull the answer is the same. but if you keep on you really won't like what is next! he knows that the 'no' answers are coming up. i am so glad that i am not the only one who knows how to use 'no' for punishment. he has well learned that i am not bluffing. he also is quite willing to apologize and move on, thank the Lord! so roll your eyes and blow all you want to, son. then pay the piper!! i do regard this as disrespectful and want him to realize it but it has never become a battle and i really dont think it will.

Comment By : bj

It's rude and a sign of a snotty attitude. It just make's me sick.

Comment By : Terrance DAvis Of Columbia Missouri

Kay, that's sad you think that way. A child left to himself will bring his mother to shame. Some behaviors are just acceptable even while going through adolesence. There are consequences for our actions. Even at school there are rules and regulations that must be adhered to in the school policy or they will receive a detention or suspension. What society are you living in? Compliance is expected of kids and teenagers in the academic arena and athletic arena as well. our society must train up children in the way they should go. Children have no guidance if the parents themselves have no discipline.

Comment By : Kim

Amen, Kim. It is our jobs as parents to do everything in our power to raise up children who respect authority and have self discipline. Children whose parents would rather ignore their children's behavior is going to have sorrow not only in their hearts when their children become adults, but also in their grandchildren's families. If you don't learn how to teach by consequences, then your disrespectful, destructive, and aggressive child becomes the same as an adult, spouse, and parent. Parenthood is the most difficult yet the most rewarding job there is.

Comment By : srbgr

I have to agree with armymom. I can't believe how many kids roll their eyes regularly at adults. Visiting my children's school, I often smile at kids who respond by rolling their eyes. One child I know well rolls her eyes every time I say hello to her. I ignore it, always, when it's kids I don't know. But I don't think kids have any idea how unfriendly, hostile they're acting when they do this. I think it stems from insecurity, shyness, or maybe these are just angry kids and this is their passive way to act out their frustration with adults or their way to act cool. But I once heard my child's (male) coach say out loud, "one of you just rolled her eyes at me and that just breaks my heart." His response was a little much, but he got his point across and the kid looked embarrassed and sheepish. I think there are situations where it's not about power struggle at all and where it would help for kids to be taught that their actions, expressions do affect other people.

Comment By : FMCH

I am filled with anger and send my 15 year old away and even told him he was acting like a punk. Im tired of him saying don't worry about it, or snapping his fingers, or smirking, grinning, basically just being a little smart ass. Its so bad that my wife get into it because she doesn't like my approch. I feel disrespect and am not around anyone like this but him. God give me help.

Comment By : frustrated

Honestly, I think if you responded to this behavior with the SAME behavior in a joking, comical way "right back at ya" the child may learn how silly he / she looks. Eventually, child may become so angry that you are "copying" them, they may stop their behavior on their own.

Comment By : CarrieGyrl

All Children grow up inspite of their parents but very few children are raised! I'm disappointed @ Kim's response by attacking parents. Chilren do not have an on and off button, no removeable batteries, and definately not an instruction manual. We all grew up differently and had different influences that shape our outlook and opinions. I think it's great that their is a venue to discuss things in a productive manner to all help us cope and deal. We should all continue to be supportive and not tear down folks for trying to make a difference in their childrens upbringing. While I don't agree with everything said here, I agree with alot that is said and I have rethought certain things which in my opinion is much more productive than negativity and criticism. Food for thought and thanks to all for sharing your own personal situations so others can take from it what works best for them.

Comment By : Amara43

Here's a different view for all of you. I'm an adult and I roll my eyes. I have to say that I feel it is an automatic facial expression just as much as a smile or a frown is. It is a reaction. It's not meant to disrespect anyone and most of the time it's not even directed at the person. For example, I will roll my eyes even over the phone when the person can't even see me. It's not something I can help even though I've really tried to stop because it annoys the heck out of my boyfriend. I won't even be making eye-contact with him and won't even realize he's looking at me, then he'll say something that makes me react with an eye-roll, and bam, the fight just escalated. I wish I could do with my eyes as I please without it causing a fight. Especially because then the argument becomes about the eye-roll itself instead of the issue at hand. So parents... maybe the reason so many of you over-react to this eye-rolling problem has more to do with your fear of losing power over your teen than it does with them actively trying to gain power over you. Maybe it's just an expression of how they actually feel and nothing more. When I roll my eyes I'm usually feeling one or more of various things, I could even be amused, but many times it roots to feeling irritated that the other person and I are not on the same page with each other. Try addressing that instead. Don't be a tyrant about it. You may be able to get your teen to stop rolling their eyes in your presence, they may replace the eye-roll with closing their eyes to avoid punishment, but it's not going to change how they feel or what they think in that moment. You can stifle a laugh but you'll still think it's funny.

Comment By : Gina

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child behavior, teens, tweens, disrespectful children, Difficult teenagers, boot camp teens, kids yelling, adolescent anger, James Lehman, The Total Transformation

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