Stressed Out

​If you heard anything about the Grammys this year, you know there was a lot water-cooler worthy moments—Lady Gaga’s blistering performance with Metallica, Beyonce not winning Record of the Year, and Adele’s request for a “redo” on her tribute to George Michael with a cover of his “Fastlove.” All in all, there were some great highs, definite lows, and a few just outright confusing moments on Sunday night.

One of the more puzzling things for me was that Twenty One Pilots didn’t win more awards than just Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. I certainly thought they would have won for at least Record of the Year for “Stressed Out.” Perhaps you’re not familiar with Twenty One Pilots, but I’m sure you’re familiar with their ubiquitous, mainstream (possibly groundbreaking) single, “Stressed Out.” You know, the catchy song with the refrain “Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days, When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out”? Anyway, I bring up this band because of their name, Twenty One Pilots. Even if you are familiar with them, I’d wager there is a great chance you’re not familiar with the meaning of their name.

As Rolling Stone reported last year, Twenty One Pilots take its name from “an Arthur Miller play, All My Sons, that Joseph [one of the band members] was reading at Ohio State, about a war contractor who knowingly sends off faulty airplane parts to Europe during World War II, afraid that he’d lose money if he fessed up to the mistake; the decision results in the death of 21 airplane pilots.” So naming the band Twenty One Pilots is a reminder to them that making the right decision in life can take more work.

I love that.

Like I said, I bet most people don’t know that story, but what a great message! In fact, our students need to hear that message more often—and an even more important one that the right decision is not always the easiest one. We have so many comforts in our lives and so many tools and resources to make our lives easier that sometimes we need to place more emphasis on the value of hard work, that nothing is worth having without it. And our students need to hear now more than ever the importance of making the right decision; they are faced with a myriad of choices and decisions in the face of peer pressure and social media that we never had to: I don’t believe we can’t even begin to comprehend how that feels and how hard it is to grow up in an environment that compounds the difficulty of making the right decision. Our students need to hear from all of us that we support them, that we value and applaud their courage and perseverance in their efforts to make the right choices. Because as many hard decisions they face right now, they will face that many more once they leave the supportive environs of home and high school. And so it’s our responsibility to help them understand as often as possible that they will be tempted to send faulty parts, but it is their responsibility to themselves and one another to do the right thing, to recall them—as hard as that might be.

And to clear up some other confusion from the Grammys if you had heard about them appearing in their underwear: before Twenty One Pilots had made it commercially, the band was watching the Grammys one evening and noticed that they were all in their underwear. One of them commented that if they were ever to win a Grammy, they should accept it in their underwear.  Not sure if that was them recalling faulty parts or sending faulty parts, but it certainly is an example of them being true to themselves.


​In the late eighties up until a few years ago, MTV used to have a special called “Unplugged.” This was a series where a wide range popular artists such as Jay Z, Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, Lil Wayne, KISS, and Nirvana among many others performed without electronically amplified instruments such as guitars or keyboards. These performances were sometimes ways for songs to be rearranged and reimagined, and the popularity of these shows often led to artists releasing the concerts on CDs. But often these reworkings of popular songs often slowed down the pace, rhythm, and volume of the songs, and that is what I want to blog about today: unplugging.

Myself included, very few of us take a moment to unplug, or to put away our technology, especially our smartphones. While I admit that when I have a free moment or am waiting for another meeting to start, I will try to catch up on email, texts, or tweets. And I have been guilty while sitting in meetings of stealing glances of my phone to see who is trying to reach me or what the latest AP alert is. Worse yet, I might even leave the phone face up so that I can furtively see what is coming across the screen while still trying to give someone my attention.

This is wrong.

Unfortunately, though, we have come to a tacit understanding as a society that this is acceptable. Aside from this being an issue of respect—one where we don’t convey to someone that they have our full attention and our interest, that we value them as a person—I worry about the message we are sending to our students as well. And I am guilty of this too.

When we were in high school, we didn’t have these issues. Technology didn’t pervade our lives to the degree that it does now. There was no Twitter, no Fitbit, no iPhone. For example, if you had to use the phone, you had to wait for someone in your family to get off the phone as your household likely had a landline—however, if you were lucky enough, you had a cordless phone and were able to sneak off to your bedroom to have some privacy while on the phone. We almost can’t even fathom now what that kind of life was like! But this is not groundbreaking stuff that I am mentioning. The point is that growing up “unplugged” for us meant that we had downtime: we had moments and time where we were able to process and make meaning of what had occurred over the course of the day. Unfortunately, I worry that our students today aren’t unplugging long enough to do the same; this is a natural and much-needed part of adolescence that helps them develop into productive, reflective, and grounded people. Moreover, because almost all students have some type of portable technology, they are closing their bedroom door and are up until 2:00 a.m. on Twitter or just gaming. The result? Sleep deprived students. As high school students, they need 9 ½ hours of sleep a night. Even with Loudoun’s progressive start-time of 8:55, many students are not getting enough sleep because of technology.

Similarly, I recently watched a video which was making the rounds on Facebook that you probably have already seen. It was Simon Sinek talking about millennials. Although there was a lot going on in his interview, the part that struck me was his description of how people are addicted to technology. He claims that the rush of seeing an alert about a text message or Tweet is the same dopamine release that gamblers or other addicts feel and actively pursue to greater ends to maintain that feeling. I haven’t researched this further to see what kind of merit there is to this claim, but at the very least, all of this should give us pause to determine what kind of downtime there is in our lives, and how we can slow down the pace, rhythm, and volume in our students’ lives.