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At 14 years of age, Zack Morrison has all the technology he really needs a pager, laptop computer and personal America Online account. But now he wants a cell phone to take to school when classes begin in a few weeks. That’s where his mother draws the line. “It’s expensive, it’s unnecessary,” said Kerry Morrison. “We just bought him a pager as a gift this summer and that works just fine.” As the new school year approaches, parents are being deluged with such expensive requests from kids who want everything from micro-cell phones to the latest generation of Palm Pilots. “You have enormous peer pressure and status involved in this,” said Ed Winter, founder and chairman of youth consulting firm the U30 Group in Knoxville, Tenn. “If kids are asking for $200 Kate Spade pocketbooks, they’re not above asking for computer upgrades or $400 Palm Pilots.” But Morrison, who is about to enter the ninth grade at Loyola High School, says he could just use another way to communicate. “I go to the beach a lot, and I get pages all the time. But I can’t respond without a cell phone,” he complains. About 38 percent of parents nationwide are likely to buy their son or daughter some type of electronics device while doing their back-to-school shopping, according to the International Mass Retail Association. That’s nearly double the percentage that made high-tech buys just a year ago. Among the hottest sellers is the Nokia 5190 cell phone, which comes with six games and costs $200. Motorola pagers are also hot buys at $50 as are lower-end computing devices, like the $99 Casio that offers a calendar and calculator. “The biggest thing this year over last year is the push on communication technology,” said Kevin Majdi, general manager of the Staples in Studio City. “It’s the cell-phone age, and everybody out there needs a cell phone. We’re seeing more requests in the last couple of months as a result of lower prices.” Such demand is also driving sales at Circuit City stores. “It’s safe to say that as parents get more involved with hand-held organizers, their children are rapidly getting into that kind of product,” said spokesman Morgan Stewart. Parents also are being swayed by the perceived safety considerations. Pagers and cell phones have become ideal tools to track the whereabouts of children (as was vividly demonstrated during last spring’s rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado). They are even considered electronic chaperones when kids are on dates and at parties, which is why Bill Doak bought his 14-year-old daughter a pager two months ago. “I change my plans all the time at night, which sometimes worries my parents, so this was a way we all could compromise,” said Brianne Doak, who will be entering ninth grade at Santa Monica High School. But youngsters are being selective about how they get wired, according to a recent survey by Forrester Research in Framingham, Mass. It found that about 30 percent of teens surveyed now own cell phones and 50 percent expect to own one by 2000. Some 27 percent have pagers, but teen interest appears to be waning because of the limited capabilities. Meanwhile, Palm Pilots are rapidly gaining popularity. Though only 4 percent of teens now use the electronic organizers, 27 percent of those surveyed said they would buy one if the price dropped. “These kids are practical and utilitarian they’re not into all gadgets all the time.” said Ekaterina Walsh, an analyst at Forrester Research. “But if they see value and convenience, they’ll buy it,” For some teens, the Palm Pilot is the latest technological frontier. “I have a cell phone, a pager and a computer that my parents bought, but I don’t have a Palm Pilot yet,” said 18-year-old Karina Turkylev as she shopped at Best Buy in West Los Angeles. “I’m not sure if I can handle them or not. They look confusing. Maybe I’ll get one next year for college, but not this year.” Robert Butterworth, a Los Angeles psychologist, said it should come as no surprise to parents that their kids want high-tech gizmos, too. “Sometimes parents send mixed signals to their kids, which causes more communication gaps,” he said. “It’s hard for a kid to realize why his parent can have a cell phone and they can’t.” Not all schools are accommodating students who manage to convince parents to get them a pager, cell phone or Palm Pilot. In fact, in an effort to curb possible drug activity, the state Education Code recommends prohibiting students from carrying any electronic signaling devices while at school. Many schools implement regulations depending on campus conditions. “We do not allow kids to bring in cell phones, pagers, Walkmans,” said Dick Rippey, assistant principal of Hollywood High School. “They are a distraction. Whether our policy changes in the future remains to be seen.” Kids have more leeway at the private Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City. “Just in the past couple of years, a number of our kids have brought pagers and laptops to school,” said Tom C. Hudnut, head master and chief executive. “I know a number of schools don’t permit them because they worry about drug activity. I don’t have to spend my time worrying about that.”

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