A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Undercover High is a reality series that deposits seven young adults posing as teens into a high school to shed light on modern teen life and relationships. The participants, tasked with assimilating among their peers for a semester, report back to school administrators and psychologists to help them better understand what teens experience in and out of school. To that end, content often raises issues like bullying, teen sexuality, homosexuality, drug use, drinking, and rebellious behavior as they present themselves. Expect some strong language as well; "bitch" and "damn" are audible, but "f--k," "s--t," and the like are edited. Occasionally violent topics like gun use and rape are discussed. If you watch with your teens, the show encourages discussions about all kinds of important issues facing high schoolers today, but know that the actors' experiences may not fully reflect your own kids'. Even so, it's a decent jumping-off point for talking about subjects that otherwise might be difficult to raise.
What's the story?
In UNDERCOVER HIGH, seven young adults pose as students and return to high school for a semester to experience firsthand modern teen life. With the awareness of school administrators alone, the adult students -- all in their early 20s and each with a vastly different recollection of their own school experience -- attempt to assimilate into the diverse population of Topeka's Highland Park High School. Their goal? To understand what being a teen is like now and to help give administrators a more intimate understanding of the kinds of pressures that today's high school students face.
Is it any good?
Nostalgia has no place in this eye-opening series that makes lab rats out of seven adults willing to subject themselves to the ups and downs of high school for a second time. You might think that having safely put to rest their own teen years would render them somewhat impervious to the insecurities their new acquaintances experience, but that's definitely not the case. It's evident from the start that what they see and hear among their new peers has an impact on them, and not always in a positive way. Through the adults' unique perspective, viewers come to see how race, projected class, and social striations (jocks, nerds, the popular kids, etc.) influence these teens and how, through it all, social media plays a dominant, and often invasive, role in their interactions with each other.
Kudos to the creators who drummed up a diverse cast not only with regard to race, gender, and geographical background, but also in general high school experiences of their own. Among the adult students are a self-professed teen bully, a gay man whose sexuality made his teen years difficult, a teen mom, and a man whose learning disability caused self-esteem issues. Their unique perspectives -- and their determination to use their personal experiences to help inspire the teens they meet -- add some much-needed feel-good moments to a show that can be difficult to watch at times, especially from a parent's seat. Even so, it's important to remember the role of shock value in a heavily edited "reality" series like Undercover High that ultimately presents a proportionally small slice of the teens' broader lives.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how accurately (or not) the actors' experiences in Undercover High relate to your own teens' lives. Which of the issues are concerns for them? How do they cope with these and other pressures? What healthy outlets do they have for stress?
Teens: When and how do you use social media? Do you find it's a mostly positive element of your relationships with peers, or does it ever complicate them? In what ways does it afford a certain safety to say or do things you wouldn't in person? What are the dangers associated with this quality?
Is this series fair to the teens involved? How would you feel if someone you considered a friend suddenly revealed a secret like the one these adults keep about their true identities? Do their motivations justify their actions?
Themes & Topics
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