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Family Matters 03/08/18

6 Lessons from Teen Show, Undercover High

High school students

I was interested in a recent TV documentary series in which the producers followed seven adults, ages 21 to 26, as they posed as students at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas, during the Spring 2017 semester. The series aired on A&E and was titled, Undercover High.

The idea was to find out and document what high school is really like today. Is it that different than say 5-10 years ago? The undercover students said, "Yes."

Here are six important findings that came out of filming documentary. Some may surprise you.

  1. Cell phone use is rampant and teens are constantly connected.

Social media has become a game changer in high school. It pressures and distracts teens from the real task of learning. Even though school policies are to not be on cell phones, students disregarded the policies and teachers had difficulty enforcing cell phone use. Clearly, school administrators must provide guidelines and expectations to students and parents regarding cell phone use. And, they must enforce them consistently.

  1. Bullying and cyberbullying remain huge problems.

Here is what one of the undercover students said, "Now it can be one person has an issue with one person and everybody else chimes in. 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 over night until it becomes a major issue."

  1. Girls are constantly pressured to share sexual pictures of themselves.

And then they wait for a social media rating on their photos. This is the one that surprised me. The sexual pressures put on girls are enormous. One of the undercover students was an attractive Hispanic girl. On the first day of school, she received social media messages from boys saying they wanted to have sex with her. So parents, talk to your girls and boys about boundaries, responding to sexual messages, and posting. What they share is permanent and can't be retrieved. And they need help resisting this type of peer pressure.

  1. Students struggle with depression in record numbers.

Part of this is related to social media use and defining who they are though image and peer-based reactions. Add to this the pressure to wear the right clothes and look a certain way with the normal angst of teen living -- all of this pressure can lead to depression. Bullying, as mentioned above, is a factor in this as well. When students don't feel they live up to social media images, they can develop depression.

  1. Teen pregnancy doesn't have the stigma it once did.

The undercover agents noticed an openness about having children out of wedlock and more school services to support those moms who chose to have their babies. The reality of "safe sex" is that it's not always safe. But, supporting a teen through a pregnancy helps young women finish their education.

  1. The need for human connection is missing.

Despite all the cyber connections, real-time relationships have been lost. Teens want adults to understand them and see what they are facing. Teens need our guidance. But, we have to tune into their world and take the time to listen.

High school has rapidly changed because of technology and new pressures that our teens face. Talk to your teen about the unique stresses they face. Help them mold their identity with your influence and relationship connection. Parents remain the most important influence in a teen's life. And connecting a teen to a vibrant youth group could make all the difference.

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