- Seven young adults posed as high school students for a semester on the A&E series “Undercover High.”
- The undercover students discovered that smartphones have completely changed the lives of teenagers.
- Smartphones have become distractions in the classroom and have made problems like bullying and depression worse.
High school isn’t what it used to be.
In fact, rapidly changing technology has made the typical American high school experience nearly unrecognizable for the average adult.
No technological advance has changed the game more than smartphones, according to seven young adults who relived their high-school years on the A&E show “Undercover High.”
The show follows the adults aged 21 to 26 as they posed as students at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas for the spring 2017 semester. The undercover participants took full course loads, joined clubs, and made friends with students in an effort to see what the lives of teenagers are like today.
Here are seven reasons why smartphones have made high school a totally different place for today’s teens.
Teachers are losing the battle for students’ attention
The undercover students immediately noticed that smartphone use is widespread at Highland Park.
And phone use isn’t limited to the hallways and cafeteria – many students spent entire class periods on their phones while teachers fought for their attention.
“I’m in my first class just looking around to see, like, what does a high schooler do? And I notice that everyone is on their phone,” said Daniel, an undercover student who graduated in 2012.
Students at the school are technically forbidden from using their phones during the school day unless teachers incorporate them into lessons. But in practice, students said they use their phones at all times of the day.
“You’re not supposed to have your phone out, but honestly, we don’t care,” one student said. “I probably check my phone about four times every five minutes,” said another.
Cyberbullying is getting out of control
Smartphones have made it easier for bullies to harass their victims around the clock.
On top of that, the types of attacks bullies lob at their victims are different when they’re not face-to-face – they’re worse.
“People are much more courageous behind a keyboard. They say things they never would have the guts to say in front of someone. So the attacks on people are more vicious than they used to be,” an undercover student named Erin told Business Insider.
“It still hurts whether it’s in person or on social media, but I think that because social media allows people to be more bold, it’s hurting deeper than it used to.”
Worse yet, sometimes victims don’t even know who their harassers are.
“I’ve seen a few people make fake pages just so they can be anonymous and basically make fun of people without nobody knowing who it is,” one Highland Park student said.
Girls are pressured to share sexual images of themselves
The undercover students quickly learned that female students at Highland Park were often pressured to share sexual images of themselves on social media or via text.
“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.
One student said that younger, more inexperienced girls are the most likely to give in to the pressure, and face the fallout if their pictures leak online.
… and they are more vulnerable to unwanted attention
Advancing technology has also made female students more vulnerable to unwanted attention and sexual harassment.
In one episode, a 22-year-old undercover student named Lina caught wind of a group text in which more than 20 male students were making alarming sexual comments about her, culminating in one student writing, “Ima rape that b—-.”
Lina showed the conversation to the principal, who investigated the incident and found some of the participants in the group text weren’t even students in the Topeka Public Schools system.
“I think my heart kind of stopped for a minute,” Lina said.
Smartphones are contributing to teen depression
The undercover students were shocked to discover how common depression was among the teenagers they went to class with.
Smartphone use and social media have contributed to the rising rates of depression among American teens. Part of the reason why is that social media puts constant pressure on teens to uphold their image.
“It’s not just your image at school that you have to uphold, like what kind of shoes you’re wearing, what brand are you wearing, what kind of backpack do you have,” Nicolette told Business Insider.
“Now you have to uphold this image on social media: how many likes do you have, how many hearts do you have, who are you following, how many followers. And it’s just doubled the impact of what it was before.”
On top of that, social media gives teens more access than ever to their role models, making their own lives seem unremarkable by comparison.
“They are constantly seeing all these perfect images instead of the reality of the messiness and awkwardness of actual life,” Shane Feldman, an undercover student who graduated in 2012, told Business Insider.
“They see all these perfect photoshopped images of celebrities and quote-unquote ‘influencers’ online. 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.”
But they’re also giving teens an outlet to vent
On the plus side, social media has given today’s teens an outlet that wasn’t available to previous generations.
One Highland Park student used social media to post daily videos in which he would share his struggles with getting bullied. The videos allowed members of the anti-bullying club to reach out to the student, who had been reluctant to discuss his situation in person.
“They are just pouring out their hearts for everyone to hear and to watch,” said Erin, a 26-year-old undercover student who joined the anti-bullying club.
“It seems that there is now a place for kids to post about how they’re feeling or being bullied, and it can be a really positive way for them to express their feelings and to help other people grow from them.”
“Undercover High” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on A&E.