‘Undercover High’ is a documentary series by A&E that has seven young adults re-enter high school and pose as students in order to truly understand how much of a stress social media is taking on the students. The show, which takes a deep dive into the lives of the students at Highland Park, was filmed in the Spring semester of 2017.
The undercover students quickly found out that cell phones and social media were contributing more stress to students than teachers, homework and tests.
Not only students, but teachers and other staff found it much more difficult to interact with their students given how much time they spend online.
The show follows the lives of these undercover students, ages 21 to 26, and they discovered that things such as bullying are much harder to handle now because of social media.
Shane Feldman, who was an undercover student in the documentary, told Business Insider: ‘bullying has been a thing since the beginning of time, but it’s very different today. The 24/7 nature of it, the way that it transfers onto the online word, has an impact on everything.’
The principal of Highland Park, Beryl New, said at the time that the documentary was filmed: ‘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. It can be resolved and it’s pretty much the end of it.’
She continued: ‘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.’
Teachers and other education officials have said that the presence of social media and the rampant use of it has made it much more difficult to interact with their students.
In one segment, a 22-year-old female undercover student was notified about a group chat where several male students were making sexual comments about her.
A female Highland Park student admitted, on camera, that female students were pressured by males to send lewd images to themselves and other students.
‘The girls that get exposed and stuff, they’re like, the freshman girls. They’re, like, really dumb, and they’ll just like send stuff to just about anyone that asks for it.’
Shane Feldman said: ‘they are constantly seeing all these perfect images instead of the reality of the messiness and awkwardness of actual life. They see all these perfect photoshopped images of celebrities and quote-unquote ‘influencers’ online.’
He told Business Insider: ‘it’s given them a completely unrealistic, warped view of life, especially when many of these students have never traveled outside their states or haven’t even seen water.’
Beryl told Business Insider: ‘I’m old enough to remember when we had no cell phones 12 to 15 years ago. To go with from a few people having them to most of the adults, to almost every single child — they can be a homeless child and have a cell phone, free and reduced meals and have a cell phone. It’s a great leveler, socially.’
Beryl later ended up leaving Highland Park in order to pursue a career as an administrator in the school district. She doesn’t think that these technology-related issues will be leaving anytime soon.