WASHINGTON -- As she leisurely picked through the racks of shiny shirts at the mall, Allison Parver, 17, was confident she wouldn't miss out on any social gatherings that night: Her sleek, black cellular phone would keep her in the loop.
''My phone is for calling my friends 24-7,'' said Allison, a senior at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School. ''I know where everyone is all the time.''
Not exactly what her father had in mind when he gave her the telephone about a year ago.
''It's for emergencies,'' Ron Parver said. ''Mostly, it should be used for calling home.''
Cellular phones, once the toy of the rich business executive, are becoming a standard amenity for many teen-agers, even preteens. The phones are marketed aggressively to a young audience, with gizmos such as alien holograms and toy kittens that hang off antennae and light up with each ring.
Industry experts estimate that 5 percent of teen-agers own a cellular phone, and a recent survey by a market research group found that 28 percent of parents with teen-agers plan to buy a cell phone for their child within a year.
But on the question of why this new teen accessory is needed, the two generations are at opposite ends: Parents envision it as an expansion of their protective eye. Can't locate the wandering teen? Just dial. But teen-agers see the cell phone as a gift of freedom, a device that instantly connects them to their friends, parties and the latest gossip.
What technology has wrought is a new arena for the age-old struggle between teen-age liberty and parental control.
Parver got a reality check last month when he got a $50 phone bill, but he isn't thinking of taking away Allison's phone. ''We review the bills together. We see what goes on,'' he said. ''But we also like that we can reach her any time. ... It gives you a great sense of security.''
The chime of a cell phone echoed through the food court on a recent evening at Pentagon City mall in suburban Virginia. Several teen-agers at different tables whipped out their phones.
Janelle Burgoyne, 16, sighed and rolled her eyes as she answered the call, playing the part of the busy executive-stressed, indispensable, clearly the most important person in the room.
''Hi, Mom,'' she said into the phone. ''Sure. I'll be home soon.''
Burgoyne giggled as she recalled how her mother bought her the phone for ''emergencies.''
''Whenever a friend wants to call me, I'm like, 'Call me on my cell,' '' she said. ''My mom pays $30 for 300 minutes. It's pointless to let those go to waste.''
Many teen-agers agreed that cell phones have changed several of their habits. In addition to spending more time on the phone, they're also out of the house more often. They find out from friends about last-minute get-togethers they otherwise would miss. Some said they no longer step out of their cars when picking someone up -- why bother ringing the doorbell when you can dial?
Beepers, which became popular about a decade ago, raised some of the same issues between parents and children. But teen-agers find the cell phones much more convenient. They're also becoming particular about what kind of phone they have. Small and sleek is preferred; the phone with a keypad that flips open is very cool.
''So they use them to socialize,'' said Janelle's mother, Joylonna Burgoyne. ''To me, I'm happy to keep in touch with my child and know she's safe.''
What drove many parents to make this purchase was the television news footage of children huddled under desks during the shootings at Colorado's Columbine High School, calling police on their portable phones.
''That was almost like a cellular ad right there,'' said Robert Rosenberg, president of Insight Research Corp., a telecommunications market research group. ''There is a ready market, and the companies know it, and the parents and the teen-agers love it.'' Most phones cost $90 to $250, with the typical calling plan $30 for 300 minutes. To tap into the teen-age market, companies are selling prepaid calling cards for $25, $50 or $75. Most companies also have introduced family calling plans in which teen-agers and their parents pay about $50 a month for two lines of service and 200 minutes, and free calls between family members.
Even parents of younger children are buying. On a recent day at a mall, Angela Booker, 12, in her Winnie the Pooh backpack, stepped up to the cellular phone stand and gazed at a line of phones all designed to meet her preteen tastes: black phones with cotton-candy pink and glow-in-the-dark green covers, or with Disney characters.
''Mom,'' she said, pointing to the phone with a deliriously happy, floppy-eared Pluto. ''I want that.''
''It's not a bad idea,'' responded Mary Booker, and sat down in the food court to consider the purchase. ''I would like to be in contact with you at all times.''
More girls have phones, mostly because parents tend to worry more about their daughters' safety. But the trend is spreading to boys as well.
''My parents didn't want me to get it at first,'' said Russell Rifkin, 17, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in suburban Rockville, Md. ''I used the reason that they'd be able to get in touch with me. But I really wanted it to be able to call friends.''
Norman Rifkin agreed to pay half the $90 cost of the phone but required his son to pay the monthly bills: ''Now that he uses it for social calls, this will be an interesting lesson for him in seeing just how far money can stretch.''
Some parents pay for the phones and the monthly service but warn that if the children rack up the bill too often they may have to pitch in.
That hasn't happened yet to Ariana Heideman, 17, of Rockville. ''They yell at me all the time about the bill,'' said Ariana, who had about $50 in phone charges in a recent month. ''But my mom also uses it to get ahold of me, so she lets it go.''
Nicole Caldwell, 16, of suburban Arlington, Va., has always paid her own phone bill, usually $30 to $40 per month, by working part time at the Arlington Animal Hospital. Her grandmother, Mary Smith, insisted on it.
''Grandma paying the cell phone bill just won't mean the same thing,'' Smith said. ''She can learn limitations.''
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