We were finishing the video The End of the Spear, watching a scene where a young man learns the difficult truth about his father’s death. As the camera zoomed in on the young man’s face, I saw his shock, dismay, renewed grief, and difficulty processing what he’d just heard. From the back of the classroom one of the girls commented, “He looks evil,” and someone else responded, “No, he’s mad.”
Brain science shows that teens don’t read facial expressions the same way adults do. They can interpret fear as anger, or concern as anger, or surprise as anger. . .you get the picture. This might explain your teen’s surprising question, “What are you getting so mad about?” when you aren’t mad, just curious. (Of course, the way in which that question is asked can lead to defensiveness on your part, and the whole situation deteriorating into another heated exchange.)
Once you realize that there’s a possibility your face may not be read correctly, you can be more conscious of your expression. In my classroom I’ve learned to deliberately smile to indicate I’m teasing. I also exaggerate confusion, sympathy, or surprise, just to make sure I’m understood.
Try this experiment: when you’re watching a movie with your teens, ask them what expressions they see on the actors’ faces, especially in dramatic moments. You should get some interesting results!
(Want to see how well you do with reading facial expressions? Take a test here: http://www.cio.com/article/facial-expressions-test.)