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Teens prefer land-line phones over high-tech devices, report says

WASHINGTON—The barrage of devices created for easier communication—such as cell phones, text messages and instant messaging—isn't much of a lure for most teenagers. They prefer Old Faithful: the land-line telephone.

They also prefer instant messaging, or "IM," for casual online conversations. E-mail, they say, is for "old people" and formal institutions.

"They're not sort of willy-nillies," said Amanda Lenhart, a co-author of the Pew Internet and American Life Project report on teens and technology, which was released Wednesday. "They think about what they want to use. For a private conversation, they pick up the phone; for casual conversation, IM."

"It's smart to like the land-line telephone," she said. "Who generally pays for the bill? It's an all-you-can-eat plan."

Fifty-one percent of the 12- to 17-year-olds said they usually chose the land-line phone when they wanted to talk with friends. Instant messaging is next, with 24 percent. Only 12 percent said they preferred cell phones.

Internet usage surges from sixth to seventh grade, the survey found, from 60 percent to 82 percent.

Older teenage girls (ages 15-17) are the leaders of all communication tools, with 97 percent having used instant messaging compared with 87 percent of boys the same age. They're also more likely to use the Internet to search for information on everything from celebrities to sexual health, but they leave online games to the boys. Eighty-six percent of boys are more likely to use the Internet to play games, compared with 76 percent of girls.

The burgeoning technologies of the last few years haven't stopped teens' parents from being wary. Of the parents of 1,100 teenagers whom Pew interviewed, 62 percent disagreed with the idea that teens who use the Internet have better social lives. More than half of those parents use Internet filters and check up on their children's Web-surfing habits.

Los Angeles-based child psychologist Robert Butterworth said that in the past, parents kind of knew what was going on with their children because they'd had similar experiences when they were younger.

"Technology is different," Butterworth said. "It's probably the first time when kids were more proficient in an area. Part of the reason why parents are so anxious is ignorance."

Online communication is a natural progression for the high school hierarchy, said Rachel Weingarten, a trend expert and the president of TKG Marketing in New York.

"Rumors can spread faster, but you can obsess about it later with your friends. If you say the wrong thing, you can correct it, 12 seconds later," she said. "It's a way of explaining yourself without the scariness. Everybody's pretty online."

The comforts of going online at home are also a social advantage.

"I look at it in sports terms: It's the home team advantage. You're in your bedroom, you're surrounded by things that make you feel good about yourself. It gives you confidence.

"If things get out of hand, you're home. You may be exploring, you may be flirting, but you're still in a very safe place," Weingarten said.

Despite their heavy Internet usage, teens spend more time physically with their friends. The average teen reported spending 10.3 hours a week with friends outside school, compared with 7.8 hours talking via technology.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050727 TEENS INTERNET

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