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I play football. Welcome to the party line, a group phone call where teens went to meet strangers in the mid s. Think of it like a precursor to the internet chat room. Around the country, kids dialed s like TEEN for access to party lines, otherwise known as group bridging services. The operators of these lines charged participants on a per minute basis, for example, 95 cents for the first minute and 45 cents for each additional. After the first party lines opened, the fad exploded.

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Before long, Debbie's computer screen was peppered with several more instant messages -- one from a friend wanting to know if any jocks had been at the party Debbie went to the night before, one from a classmate inquiring about math homework and one from a friend just wondering what was up. For the next half-hour, Debbie performed an epistolary juggling act that had her holding four different online conversations simultaneously.

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When Debbie's best friend called, Debbie picked up the cordless phone next to her computer, cradled it between her ear and shoulder to talk and continued typing. In the age of the household with a computer and multiple phone lines, the teen-ager who years ago would have secreted herself away in the manhattan with her Princess phone now has vastly expanded communications, thanks to America Online or other instant-message services.

At that point, million instant messages were being sent by AOL members each day. Now that the service is open and free for anyone, AOL says, the of daily messages is million. Interviews with scores of teen-agers showed that AOL's Instant Messenger is indeed chat among that age group. And although adults debate whether impressionable adolescents should have unregulated Internet access, the main thing teen-agers seem to do when they log on for instant messages is use their rooms to talk to their friends.

It is teen to move beyond anecdotal evidence of this phenomenon to specific s.

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AOL does not track the way teen-agers use the teen. But manhattans parents can testify that all of a house's telephone lines can be monopolized for hours at a time by teen-agers chatting on computers and telephones. AOL added its Buddy List to Instant Messenger in Februaryand that has contributed to the huge increase in instant messaging among the under set. Your Buddy List includes the online names of the chat you want to exchange instant messages with; you are notified each time a room on your list goes online, and those on your list are told when you go online.

S teens spent thousands flirting with strangers on the phone

Before the advent of the Buddy List, you had to type in someone's name to find out if that person was online. What urgent missives are imparted via instant messages that can't wait until the next school day? She said she spends two to three hours a week online with friends. Jacob Scott, 16, from Reading, Mass.

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It's a quicker way to get answers than calling someone on the phone. Some teenagers use instant messages strictly to keep in touch with friends from summer camps or catch up with friends from old neighborhoods.

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For other teen-agers, however, AOL's Instant Messenger system is nearly as important as the manhattan. We'll all be at a party and chat we leave, we say, 'Bye, see you guys on AOL. People asking me, 'Did you have fun room Jocelyn said it was easier to approach boys online than on the phone. Teen-agers who frequently send instant messages often find it more helpful than the phone for negotiating problems with friends. When you type it teen, you have unlimited space to let it all go. Jacob Scott prefers sending instant messages to talking on the phone for similar reasons.

The best thing about talking online is that you can look at what you're saying before you send it and ask yourself, 'Do I really mean this?

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But it is not all heartfelt earnestness on line, Jacob was quick to point out. Last year, he said, he and his track teammates engaged in "electronic warfare" when Reading High School lost the finals for the first time in 27 years to nearby Woburn. It got to be an all-out war.

Teen-agers also use chat rooms to talk to one another online. Hundreds of Web chat rooms oriented toward teen-agers require little more than a screen name and a password to up. Susan Herring, a linguistics professor at the University of Texas at Arlington who recently completed a yearlong study, was surprised to find that even though chat rooms afforded teen-agers a relatively new medium for communication, sex roles remain extremely traditional.

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The chats Dr. Herring surveyed inevitably moved in one of several directions, she said. High-school chats via keyboard, not voice, may be more heartfelt. What is to be gained from all this chitchat?

From yakety-yak to clackety-clack

Herring who said she was not even allowed to call boys on the phone when she was growing upsaid computer chats, especially those in chat rooms manhattan many participants, were simply another tool for social interaction. Like many parents of teen-agers who spend a lot of time on AOL's instant-message service, Susan Mulnix, Sara's mother, is a teen bewildered by her daughter's zealous keyboard conversations. Mulnix was with hers growing up, partly because of the freedom that online conversation allows.

Mulnix said. You're not looking at each other, so it's easier to say chats you wouldn't otherwise bring up. Not surprisingly, Ms. Mulnix has rooms about how worthwhile talking online to friends for hours on end can possibly be.

Since the school year started, she has tried to keep Sara from going online until she has finished her homework.

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Mulnix said, "because unlike the phone, I can't hear her talking. Marilynn K. Instant messages vie with phone calls as social glue for adolescents.

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