Undercover High

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Undercover High TV Poster Image
Revealing reality series exposes teen experience.

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Kids say

age 12+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

A mixed bag. On one hand, the show and its participants are to be applauded for this unique experiment that exposes the teen experience in a nonjudgmental way. On the other, doing so requires duping the students that the adult participants befriend and using their experiences, struggles, and emotions for research purposes. Ultimately, though, the show is a revealing (and disturbing, in many cases) look into the kinds of pressure that are unique to today's teens and the often unhealthy methods of coping they use, which proves useful for participants and viewers alike.


Positive Role Models & Representations

The adult students take part in this program for different reasons, and they do so by tricking the teens, but all have the greater good in mind. Some hope to use the experience to further careers and ministries that reach out to teens; others look to use their own struggles and triumphs in their high school years to help the teens they meet now.


Occasional fights break out on school grounds. Mention of teens playing around with guns. Mention of attempting to rape an uncooperative girl.



Teens shown kissing, sharing other moments of closeness in and around school. Conversations on social media and via text often have a graphic edge as boys especially attempt to turn girls' heads with references to appeals to "hit that" and otherwise engage in sexual activity. Related topics include teen pregnancy, addressed from perspective of an adult participant and current students who are pregnant or new moms.



"F--k," "s--t," "a--hole," and the like are edited. "Damn" and "bitch" are audible.



Social media is a constant presence in teens' lives and a frequent topic among the adult students and administrators, so there's much mention of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram especially.


Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teen drug use, drinking, and smoking are discussed where they pertain to the participants' experiences and observations.


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.

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Teen, 17 years old Written bylily2540 January 14, 2018

not worth it

I personally think this show is a waste of time, its a documentary and im not sure anyone of any age would enjoy it and choose to watch it in their free time.

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?

TV details

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