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Cell phones help keep tabs on teens

Thursday, March 02, 2000

By L.A. Johnson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When 17-year-old Tara Bailey needs a ride home from work at Downtown's Old Navy store, she doesn't have to scout around Gateway Center looking for a pay phone.

 
 
How do you keep in touch?


Have you or your family cut off your home telephone line -- your "land line" -- and gone completely cellular? Or do you still not have any kind of home phone at all? If you'd like to be part of an upcoming Post-Gazette story on the haves and have-nots of the Cellular Revolution, please call Bob Batz at 412-263-1930 or e-mail him at bbatz@post-gazette.com.


Related article:

More consumers opting for wireless as principal phone

   
 

She simply whips out her cell phone -- complete with voice mail, caller ID, games and 15 different types of ringers.

"Mommy, I'll be outside in five minutes," Tara says.

"I'm there, and she's not standing around waiting," says her mother, Debra James-Bailey, of Crafton Heights.

When flight attendant Linda Stadelman is stuck on a Jetway in Denver and she needs to contact her 15-year-old daughter, Nikki, she calls Nikki's cell phone.

"That way, she doesn't worry that something horrible has happened," Stadelman of Marshall Township says. "She knows why I'm late, that I'm OK and that I'm just late because of air traffic or weather, but I'm going to arrive."

Increasing numbers of parents are buying their teen-agers cell phones as a way to keep in touch with them and a way for them to call for help in an emergency. With cell phones and cell phone plans more affordable than ever, wireless seems the way to go.

About 5 percent of teen-agers nationwide have cell phones, says Robert Rosenberg, president of Insight Research Corp., a telecommunications market research company in Parsippany, N.J.

"I like it because I can get in touch with anyone no matter where I am," says Nikki, a 10th-grader who has had her phone since late August. "If I'm meeting my friends and I'm running late, they call me, or with my parents, I can call them at any time."

Most schools prohibit cell phone use, but Nikki, like lots of students, keeps the phone with her for use after school.

"She does play sports, and sometimes after school, if she's at a practice, we can leave a message on her cell phone saying our flight is running 30 minutes late or someone else, maybe, is going to drive her from practice," Stadelman says. "It's pretty much to keep the lines of communication open."

Nikki's parents also like her to carry a cell phone whenever she goes to parties or rides in a car with one of her teen-age friends.

"We want to know where she is, what time she's arriving, what time she'll be coming home," Stadelman says. "So, we sort of give her the rules and tell her to call us at such and such a time and let us know she's there."

Most of the calls Nikki makes are to her parents. Most of the calls she receives are from her friends.

Tara, an 11th-grader, has had a cell phone since she was a ninth-grader, and a pager since she was a sixth-grader. She talks to friends around town and out of state on her cell phone but says she mostly talks to her family. She talks to her friends more by e-mail, she says.

"Believe me, if my parents wouldn't pay for my phone, I wouldn't have it," says Tara, who is involved in seven organizations in addition to holding down an after-school job. "I never asked for a cell phone or pager. My parents got it to keep in touch with me.... My mom, she keeps very good track of me on my phone."

James-Bailey admits she has Tara carry a cell phone more for her own peace of mind than Tara's convenience.

"If something happens, I want to know," James-Bailey says. "I guess you could call it electronic monitoring."

Both moms also say their daughters' monthly phone bills aren't usually unreasonable.

Some teen-agers buy cell phones for themselves or at least help pay for them. A decade ago, cell phone service averaged $95 a month. Now, with the average monthly cost of cell phone service -- from the bare bones plans to the bells-and-whistle plans -- being about $40, they're affordable to teen-agers, says Lisa Ihde, a spokeswoman with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association in Washington.

"The majority of the time, the parent sets up the subscriber," Ihde says. In Pennsylvania, no one under 18 can enter into any contract. "Seventy-two percent of the time, the parent is paying the bill, but 28 percent of the time, the student is coming up with their own cash."

AmyBeth Domski recently stopped by the Aerial Communications, Inc., kiosk at Ross Park Mall looking for a new cell phone plan.

"My contract ran out. It was for two months and it's over," says Domski, 19, of Shaler. "Before, I had unlimited, off-peak and weekend time. Now that I don't have that, I'm paying."

Domski has worked graveyard shift jobs for a while and uses her cell phone to call her folks when she is heading home.

Economics is driving the increased popularity of cell phones, agrees Elliott Hamilton, spokesman for the Strategis Group, a telecommunications market research group in Washington.

"Generally we're seeing pricing falling into the 15-cents-a-minute or 20-cents-a-minute range with a lot of these plans," he says.

Many cellular phone companies offer family plans under which several people can have individual cell phones all billed to one account, he says. Some plans provide for unlimited calls among family members, too.

"I don't think four years ago anybody would have considered giving their teen-ager a cell phone, but nowadays, it's so pervasive in our society and teen-agers themselves are desiring it," Hamilton says. "You started seeing pagers among the regular teen crowd about four years ago, and they've kind of upscaled themselves from pagers to cell phones."

That's exactly what Tony Marmo did. He recently plunked down $50 at the Bell Atlantic Mobile kiosk in Ross Park Mall to get a pre-paid calling card for his cell phone -- his first.

"If a pager is $9 a month and this is $8 a month, it's cheaper," says Marmo, 18, of Emsworth, who had a pager for six months. "If somebody pages you, you're going to call them back anyway or try to find a phone."

Those in cell phone sales say they see parents buying cell phones more for their children away at college than their children in high school.

"Actually, it is cheaper to have a cell phone," says Andy Gides, 22, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania senior. "I pay $30 a month, 350 free minutes per month, on or off-peak, and I use it as my primary phone."

Calls to the 412, 724, 814 and 304 area codes are considered local calls under his plan, which makes those calls cheaper than calling long distance on traditional land-line telephones.

"There's not a lot of places I need to call outside of Pennsylvania and West Virginia," Gides says.

He likes the convenience of having the cell phone on him at all times and the sense of security it gives him.

"I do a lot of traveling over the summers, and I've found that with my cell phone, I just feel a heck of a lot better traveling with it," he said.

His cell phone came in handy last summer when his car broke down about 15 miles outside of Indiana, Pa., on his way to visit a friend.

"My car stalled and refused to start," he explains. "I was someplace I didn't want to be hanging out by myself."

Without leaving his car, he was able to call the motor club for assistance, receive a call from the motor club about when he should expect the tow truck, call his friend to say he was running late, call his Mom just to let her know what had happened, and even call a garage and let them know his car would be towed there shortly.

It sure beat having to walk to the nearest pay phone, assuming there might have been one near, or having to flag down someone for help, he says.

"It kind of covers your butt," he says. "If you don't take care of yourself, nobody else will."



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