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'90s Family

United in Cyberspace

Need some child-rearing advice? Have a few tips for others? If so, there's a place for you on the Internet, where support for moms and dads is booming.


Subject: Sleeping Through the Night.

We have a 9-week-old baby boy who gets up every two to three hours during the night to feed. We would love him to sleep through the night or at least longer. Please help!


Sleepless in Simi Valley


Re: Sleeping Through the Night.

I can sympathize. Have you tried putting him on a schedule? Are you creating too much activity for him when he's awake? Sit in a quiet spot and give him his bottle with as little activity as possible. . . . Let me know how it goes and good luck!

Does this sound like advice from an expert columnist? Try again. The experts here are real parents who offer tried and true advice to their cyberspace comrades. Welcome to the virtual backyard fence.

Looking for an answer? Got a situation, solution, cute story or just want to vent? Sign on and confide your parenting adventures about potty training, teenage curfews or family vacations to others who can sympathize and laugh with you. Home computer users are fast finding parenting support and answers through online services and the Internet.

A recent study found that 1995 was the watershed year in home computer use. "Our research showed that for the first time ever, family use outpaced work use for home computers," says Tom Miller, vice president of research for FIND / SVP a New York marketing research firm. Miller says most telling were statistics that showed women used home computers as much as men did.

Racing to capture the growing family audience, online services have slickly revised areas designated for families with easier access than before. CompuServe recently launched a separate online service called WOW designed exclusively for home use.

"Family use was the most important component in designing WOW," says CompuServe's Jan Bowers. "We saw there really was no service designed from the ground up for home and family use."

Streamlined software includes direct links from online family pages to family Web sites. For those who use alternative "onramps" that access the Internet directly, the number of home pages and Web sites focused on family issues in all capacities grows daily.

Want to know the "fidget factor" for movies? Check out "Family Planet," which offers reviews with children in mind. At "Positive Parenting Online" there's a databank of parenting articles by child-rearing experts. Do you want to talk to a midwife or have questions about holistic prenatal care? Try "Parents Place." "Family World" covers the globe in a cooperative effort of 30 parenting publications from around the world.

There are Web sites exclusive to dads, moms, blended families, adoption issues and children with special needs. And when parents can't find what they're looking for they create their own Web page.

Brandi Valentine of Sacramento started "Brandi Valentine's Attention Deficit Disorder Home Page" when she got caught up in the rigors of trying to find answers for her 8-year-old son. As she stumbled upon information and started posting it for other parents to read, things took off, she says.

The page now has 4,000 visitors (or "hits") a month. "I receive about 25 to 40 letters a day from parents who tell me how beneficial the page has been for them," she says.

One of the most interactive parenting sites offered by an online service is called Moms Online at America Online. Editor in Chief Katherine deBaun got the idea when she was home with her baby and logged on to look for other new moms.

"Being home with a new baby can be isolating and it's not always easy to get out and meet other moms," she says. "I really saw a need and wanted to create a highly interactive online support group that made the users feel connected."

Since its inception in February 1995, the site has taken off; it receives up to 8,000 hits a day.

The forum offers advice, humor, message boards and continuous chat. Many users meet their online peers in person or set up play groups through the "Moms Across America" bulletin board organized by state, deBraun says.

Online family forums are like a community in the truest sense, says Polly Corman, moderator for Prodigy's parenting page. "Women see each other through their pregnancies. I have learned of many women who've made real connections, traveling across the country to meet."

Prodigy sets up organized chats, but Corman says parents don't always stick to the designated topic. "After the kids are in bed, parents join in to vent and just talk to other adults," she says.

"I was bothered one time by something my sitter did and was tremendously supported by other online moms who told me I wasn't being too picky," says Ann Falkinburg, a Fontana mother of two.

Falkinburg says she's enjoyed talking over issues with moms from all over the country. "All seem to be pretty thoughtful about their choices in life and I find a commonality with that, even if I don't agree with them," she says.


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