Adults Who Went Undercover At A High School Found 7 Things People Don’t Realize About Life For Teenagers Today

Seven things the undercover students learned about high-schoolers that most adults don't realize.

“What I saw going back to high school, more than anything, was an alarming disconnect between teenagers and adults today,” Feldman told Business Insider. “There’s just a growing disconnect. Most adults don’t have any clue what teenagers are going through today.” He continued: “They are craving for adults to understand them and see them for who they are and the struggles they are facing. I don’t think teachers and parents, respectfully, understand what they are facing.”


On A&E’s documentary series “Undercover High,” seven adults posed as students for a semester in a Kansas high school. Some who graduated as recently as five years ago still saw many differences in what daily life is like for high-schoolers today. They found that cell phone use is rampant— and dangerous. Teachers have less control than ever. But kids still just want someone to talk to.


High school is nothing like it used to be.

That’s the message of “Undercover High,” a documentary series on A&E that follows seven adults who pose as students for a semester at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas.

The undercover students, aged 21 to 26 when the show was filmed last year, took classes, joined clubs, and saw firsthand the struggles teenagers go through in their everyday lives. Even for the participants who graduated as recently as five years ago, their return to high school was completely different from their first time around.

Here are seven things the undercover students learned about high-schoolers that most adults don’t realize.

Social media has changed the game.

Cellphone use is rampant at Highland Park High School. A&E

Social media has had a profound effect on the daily lives of teenagers. Being constantly plugged in introduces unrelenting pressure on students to maintain their online presence around the clock.

“The kinds of challenges that I experienced in high school along with my peers are now 24/7 issues because of technology, computers, cellphones, and social media,” Shane Feldman, an undercover student who graduated from high school in 2012, told Business Insider. “There’s no real escape.”

Teachers have less control than ever.

Social media isn’t just an after-school phenomenon. The undercover students were shocked to observe that in many classrooms, most students were on their phones for most of the time.

“You’re not supposed to have your phone out, but honestly, we don’t care,” one student said.

Beryl New, the principal of Highland Park High School when the show was filmed, said that even though social-media sites were blocked on the school’s network, staff members were helpless in stopping students from accessing them on their own devices. And teachers said it was a daily struggle to get students to focus on classwork.

Another downside of technological advances is that bullying has turned into a 24/7 activity.

Worse yet, it’s almost impossible for teachers and school staff members to police cyberbullying, as incidents that start in the classroom can reverberate around the school within moments and continue snowballing at home.

“Back in the day, if a child was going to be bullied, it might be one person, one incident that happens on the playground or while you’re waiting on the bus,” New told Business Insider. “It can be resolved, and it’s pretty much the end of it.

“Now it can be one person has an issue with one person, and everybody else chimes in, and by the time it gets to the next day, someone wants to fight, someone’s not going to school, someone is threatening suicide. It took something singular — granular even — and it’s just ballooned overnight until it becomes a major issue.”

Girls are constantly pressured to share sexual images of themselves.

The undercover students discovered that female students face a unique struggle at school: they are frequently pressured to share risqué images of themselves with other students.

“It’s something that’s normal for them — posting promiscuous pictures of themselves and rating themselves based on what others think and like off social media,” Nicolette, a 22-year-old undercover student, told Business Insider.

The consequences of such pressure can be devastating for girls, such as if the images leak online and they’re shamed by their peers.

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