Parents wondering what to buy their teens for the holidays should consider hooking them into the communications web.
Carolyn Gillikin, a sophomore at Evans High School, has a pager and a cell phone. So does classmate Brandy Hultman. They share their cell phones with family members, and if they could have any electronic gadget, it would be a cell phone of their own.
An informal survey of students at Evans found that about one-third have a cell phone and that about 23 percent have a pager. Almost all of them have a personal computer to use at home.
"I, personally, spend at least four hours a day on my computer doing work and talking with friends," said William Palmer, 18, a senior at Augusta Preparatory Day School. "It makes doing homework, communicating with others and doing research a breeze. I also have a laptop, and I live on my cell phone."
William, a member Xtreme's teen board, said most of the teens he knows have some form of Internet access and that most talk on the computer with friends using chat programs. Evans students said they use e-mail, instant messenger programs and chat rooms as many as five or six hours a day.
Studies show that people with digital access tend to be white and fairly affluent - only about 25 percent of blacks and Hispanics have regular access to the Internet, compared with 41 percent of the country as a whole, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That's known as the "digital divide," and it worries some people, who think it may put those groups at a disadvantage in an increasingly wired society.
But a recent national survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that more than 70 percent of teens were using the Internet for homework or school-related research - and that they were more likely to use the Internet than the library.
The technology also makes things easier for parents. It's easier to get in contact with teens and to keep track of them if they're carrying around a cell phone or a pager. And it's more convenient to give teens their own phones than to have them tying up home phone lines.
"It becomes a trend," said Jay Kim, owner of Page Tech in Augusta, which offers pager and cell-phone service. "Cell phones are becoming an accessory just like any other accessory. We personalize the designs - the ring tones, the cases. It's just like wearing jewelry."
In his experience, most teens get a plan with a pre-paid number of minutes each month, so they don't go over their limit and have to pay extra fees.
"Because when their friends call, that's it," he said with a laugh.
Xtreme teen board member Camden Morgante contributed to this report.
Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org