If given the chance to relive high school, would you do it? This is the basic premise of A&E’s docuseries “Undercover High,” where seven young adults between the ages of 21 and 26 went undercover as high school students for a full semester. They attended classes, joined clubs, and most importantly, bonded with real high school students to learn just how different high school is today.
Social Media & Technology
It’s no surprise that technology plays a significant role in the lives of adolescents, but what shocked the participants of “Undercover High” was how much students used their devices and how often they were too distracted to pay attention. While the use of cell phones in class is prohibited, students proceed to use them anyway, and it seems that high schools do not have an effective punishment for unauthorized cell phone usage.
In addition to the distraction of these devices, one of the undercover students, Shane, remarked that bullying has been made much worse than he remembers, given the prevalence of social media, and said, “The kinds of challenges that I experienced in high school along with my peers are now 24/7 issues.”
Young girls are also increasingly pressured to share explicit images of themselves, and it seems that they post them willingly in order to get social attention and approval, which is an evident downfall to the prominence of social media and rating systems.
The show attributes much of the rise of teenage depression to the prevalence of social media and how an individual’s worth directly correlates to their image online. Because teenagers tend to consider their online personas as extensions of themselves, receiving bad reviews or low activity can negatively impact their sense of self-worth. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of teenagers who experienced a major depressive episode rose 37%, and it is possible that social media has played a huge role in this increase.
One of the undercover students, Nicolette, got pregnant while she was in high school, and she remembered her pregnancy being treated as very taboo and others would claim a baby would threaten her future. In this high school, however, she found that there was a substantial amount of support for teen parents, and the school even provided a daycare for their young children. In general, it seems that teen pregnancy is more acceptable now than it was in earlier years, and pregnant teens are treated with respect and care from their peers and teachers.
While connecting to the actual high school students, the undercover students discovered that those who were labeled as “problem children” made the biggest impact. In talking to these students, the undercover adults sought to understand the roots of their problems, what was troubling them and what their fears were. The undercover students observed that there was a growing disconnect between teachers and their students, and that these students, especially those who don’t perform well academically or are otherwise struggling, want more than anything to be understood.
High school is constantly changing. Even in the space of three to eight years, the culture of high school seems to be so vastly different it’s almost unrecognizable to the undercover students. Understanding what teenagers experience and face with the expansive technology at hand and the increasing societal pressure to perform well may help improve their mental states and allow them to open up.