Friday, January 04, 2019

"Undercover High" and Adult/Kid Relationships

I watched the final episode of "Undercover High" last week, so bit behind it's initial airing.  The show was a docu-series, where adults posed as teens for a semester, and agreed to be followed around by cameras and report back to the administration on things they thought could be improved or expanded.  The students and staff at the school were aware that the project - both documentary and undercover adults were occurring, but other than a select few staff, did not know the identities of the undercover adults. 
I found the show interesting. There is heavy narration from the participants, and it's hard to tell how much is done in the moment versus later.  (There are definitely hair changes.)  But as an adult who has worked with teens, I noticed the adults experiencing some of the same struggles that you often find with adults working with teens in a scenario where the adult is not in a clearly hierarchical place.   One of the things I often had to remind myself and other adults, was these teens did not need more parents.  They really don't.  Plenty of people, plenty of adults tell kids what to do all the time.  Certainly I have more experience in certain areas, can provide alternatives, and of course say that certain choices sound better to me.  Now of course, these weren't analogous situations, the teens I worked with all knew me as an adult. It didn't matter how cool my t-shirt was, they were going to view me as an adult.  In the show, these adults were interacting with these teens as teenagers, and that created an extra level of difficulty.  
Which leads us to the issue I found could make for the most problematic adult - the adult who wanted to relive or redo their glory years.  Kourtnei only lasted one episode, it was hard to tell how many school days that was, but it was clear she was not prepared for how to make connections and be somewhere in a high school where no one knew her.  (I get that being a mid-year senior transfer is like the worst, but still.)  
Daniel also seemed to focus on trying to be one of the cool kids.  He did get shown being helpful to one teen who was facing some struggles, and even talking to the administration about the things that they might be able to do to assist. (I confess I had the double edged sword of oh cool, and whew, I bet there's ten more kids in that school who could have used that and they just didn't befriend an undercover adult this year.)  And yes, now that I have finished and googled, I see that Goodloe has been accused of statutory rape.  It did not occur at the school, but it is a thing that those of us who work with kids know, that these adult jobs are very appealing to some who wish to misuse their access. 
Daniel, Jorge, and Lina also fell victim to the trap of trying to be like a teen so much that you well - end up talking to the principal about your grades in Daniel's case, or end up getting kicked out of class for causing a disturbance in Jorge and Lina's case. 
Jorge and Lina wanted to make sure that Hispanic and/or LBGTQ kids were feeling appropriately represented and able to be.  Lina also quickly discovered how social media added an extra level to the amount of sexual harassment and catcalling she found in school could follow you home on your phone.  While the administration was able to determine that the most egregious comments were not made by current students it still showed how pervasive it was.  
Shane and Nicolette also discovered that when you are viewed as a teen, people think you should go to prom with a teen.  This, and the social media harassment were some differences posed explicitly by posing as a teen.  I am not suggesting no one sexually harasses adults, or even that teenagers don't ever sexually harass adults, but the response and reactions are a little different.  Most of the undercover adults did not know who the other undercovers were.  Shane noticed that Nicolette seemed, very adult, and came up with a clever solution to the prom problem, they could we go together as friends so that neither had to take a teen.  
Now this is not to take away from the tough job that these adults bravely signed up for.  Erin, Jorge, Lina, and Gloria focused  - at least as far as the show depicted - on making deeper connections with a few specific students.  Shane - after spending some time trying to cheer up and motivate a student who had told him multiple times she had untreated depression, then switched focus to created a radio/announcements club.  Nicolette created a girls empowerment group.  And of course all of them provided feedback to the administration. They were put in the position of having to reveal themselves to the student friends they had made and explain that while they had fudged their backstory, the friendships were real, but certainly, I have to imagine the students had a lot of processing to do. Also, it's all very well and good to say the friendship was real, but the reality is that for these teens, who remain teens, at the end of this experiment, the relationship they thought they had formed with a teen should change now that they know that person is an adult.