Transcript for Docuseries 'Undercover High' sheds light on modern struggles for teens
get how hard it is to be a teenager right now. Reporter: Seven new students. One big secret. Would you be willing to go back to high school undercover to find out whateens are facing today? Did any of you ever find yourself for a moment thinking what the heck am I doing here? Yes. Reporter: These young-looking 20-somethings went undercover as students at highland park high school in Topeka, Kansas. Parents have no idea what's going on in high school. But now they will. I'm not used to waking up this early. Reporter: George and Lena are siblings from Georgia. He says he was bullied in high school for being gay. I was a target. Reporter: She was a cheerle cheerlead cheerleader. Hopefully I'm able to help these kids with my own experience. Reporter: 22-year-old Nicolette from New Mexico was a teen mom. People ostracized me. Reporter: And Daniel, a youth pastor who struggled in high school with a learning disability. How do you overcome something? Even the little things that are happening in your personal life. Reporter: They're all a part of A&E's new docuseries, "Undercover high," which sheds light on challenges today's kids are facing. Like sexuality, bullying, and social media. These are things that are real issues for , and I believe that this series is going to give opportunities for dialogue between youth and adults. Was it sort of a gotcha idea? We're going to put some adults in there and see what we can find on these kids? Yeah, no, absolutely not. The intent wasn't gotcha. It was really how do you pierce the teen bubble? How do you see at their level what is going on and how conversations happen? How does social media work? Reporter: The students thought they were being filmed for a report on high school life. Only a few administrators knew the truth. Each undercover adult was given a new identity, transforming themselves both physically -- The term brace face comes to mind. Your new cell phones with a new social media profile. Reporter: And virtually to better fit the part. It's harder to be a student today versus when I was a student because at school you would worry about, okay, what table am I sitting at? What group do I fall into? Now you have what kind of social media do I post? Who follows me? And it doesn't just end at school. It continues, you know, when you go home. You're basically being judged twice. Reporter: In fact, a recent national survey found that 94% of American teens ages 13 to 17 use social media. And even begin to tell you how many times these kids got told to put up their cell phones. It's a bigger distraction now than it was then. Reporter: The undercover idea has been seen before. Remember "21 jump street"? You'll be going in as undercover high school students. My name is Josie. Reporter: Or "Never been kissed." Where are you going? To high school. Because I'm a high school student. Reporter: But this is not a movie. The participants sometimes facing very real and unexpected threats. I feel like it's Normal for new girls to get a lot of attention. And it's just because it's a fresh face. Reporter: In her first weeks at school Lena became the center of attention for a group of young male students. They sent her friend requests and messages. There's this group. They accidentally added me. Oh, my goodness. These kids had literally spent like a whole afternoon talking about me. Reporter: But that attention quickly spiraling out of control. Maybe that's their plan, like get you to hang out with them and get you all drugged up. The more re read the conversations, it got a little bit more serious. They are talking about raping me. That is something serious, girl. I know. Honestly, it was just really overwhelming reading it. They were talking about what they would do to me, they would get me drunk, then they'd rape me. They were plotting to rape you? Yes. Honestly, I felt like as an adult it put me in a place where I was like oh, my goodness, am I doing something wrong? Am I dressing wrong? So I can only imagine what these teenage girls are going through. Reporter: After investigating highland park administrators found out those involved in the group chat were not from their school. Yet the scare was revealing. One survey showing that 34% of kids ages 12 to 17 report being victims of cyberbullying. What surprised you the most about what's happening in our high schools and what teens are dealing with today? I can't imagine -- it can't be said enough the impact of social media. And phones were everywhere. Everywhere. And I do not see the phones being everywhere as some failure at highland park. Phones are everywhere in every school that I went to to look at this, and it is the smartphone. The smartphone changed everything. Reporter: The undercover experiment was delicate, since high school relationships already fragile were no doubt heightened in this case by the fact that only one side knew the true nature of the friendship. Hey, listen up. Listen up. Reporter: Senior Deandre Phillips was one of the popular kids at highland park high, an athlete and class president. He befriended George, opening up to him about a very personal secret. I can't do certain things because I have like a reputation. At school. Yeah. Yeah, you do have a reputation. But are you really being yourself? No. No. That's one thing that sucks about being bisexual, you know? That was a really big show of confidence and trust for this student to talk to you about that. For some reason he actually told me that he trusted me more than anybody in that school. And to me it was a little shocking because he was the school's president, he was, you know, a jock. Was that hard for you to do and then once you found out that he was an adult -- I would say it was kind of confusing to me because I really haven't told any people here about my sexuality and like this is a new person that for some reason I feel comfortable. With that being said, knowing he was an adult, I just -- I felt kind of sad in the moment because now he has to go away because -- Because the project is over. Yeah. You exposed some pretty personal moments and lives in this show. Were you worried at all about putting these kids in a difficult situation? I mean, they're vulnerable. I think that when it was something as sensitive as somebody confronting their own sexuality, before we put that on television we really wanted to make sure on as many levels as possible that the student was in a place of comfort with that. You've been that one person I could talk to. Reporter: The cameras and premise of the show may have complicated an already complex time for these teens. But former principal Dr. Beryl new says it opened a window too. I think that there is a culture that is below the surface that adults don't always notice. And I think, you know, the social issue may be that parents will have some fodder for discussion that's meaningful. Reporter: For? Like d'andre, these relationships, though brief, have had a lasting impact. This show has helped me realize kind of my purpose in life. I really want to help people and like help them grow. So I decided to change my major. I want to start off as a teacher and then work my way up to become a principal. So you want to go into education because you did this program. Yes, ma'am. They really helped me a lot. Like I feel like I'm a completely different person. You know, starting the show to now. Reporter: For "Nightline" I'm Deborah Roberts in Topeka, Kansas.
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