George and Tammy Calligandes of Londonderry and their two children, Alexa and Jacob, visit the Central Firehouse, where George is a paramedic and community relations coordinator.

Even with the growing number of gadgets and gizmos that appear to isolate today’s youth, a recent U.S. Census Bureau study said that parents are playing a more active role in raising their children than they did in the 1990s.

The study compared data from 1994 to 2004 and looked at the time children spent watching television, eating meals with their parents and being read to.

According to the findings, about 68 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds had limits on their television viewing time, an increase from 54 percent in 1994. Children from 6 to 11, too, were having increased restrictions on television viewing time, with 71 percent in 2004 compared with 60 percent 10 years earlier.

Local experts found that, and other findings, to be encouraging.

“TV time should be limited,” said Dr. Edward Bailey, chief of pediatrics at North Shore Medical Center/Children’s Hospital in Salem, Mass.

“People think children are getting an education while watching TV, but kids can’t interpret everything they see. There are a lot of murders, etc. on TV and children begin to think that violence is a normal parameter.”

Bailey said reading to children, on the other hand, stimulates their imagination.

“The earlier you can do this, the better,” Bailey said. “Even at 3 and 4 months old.”

The Census study found that parents were reading to their children an average of 7.8 times a week for 1- to 2-year-olds and 6.8 times a week for 3- to 5-year-olds.

Even as Bailey views the statistics as encouraging, and sees some families attempting to spend time with their children, he still believes there’s room for improvement.

“Many families are also missing many opportunities to spend time with their kids,” he said. “When I go out to restaurants I see families watching television while they eat. This doesn’t replace conversation with mom and dad.”

Bailey said eating meals together is a good opportunity to know what’s taking place in a child’s life.

“Parents can share their own successes and failures in an age-appropriate way at the dinner table,” Bailey said. “They can share that they’re not perfect themselves. It opens the door to a child discussing a problem such as getting picked on while on the school bus.”

Louise Morin-Davy, director of child and family services at the Center for Life Management based in Derry, also touts dinnertime as a prime opportunity to connect with children.

“Even if the husband works late, younger children can eat earlier and still join the parents at the table when dad comes home,” she said.

Morin-Davy counsels parents to limit excessive stimuli from the television and loud music and to try quieter board games with them.

“Sometimes kids are resistant to changes and we tell parents to stick with it and the kids will get engaged.”

Bailey, too, said board games give parents and children time to personally interact.

“I also encourage one-on-ones if there are a lot of children or the age difference is great,” Morin-Daly said. “Children love to have special attention.”

The study also found that parents were exerting more positive influence on their children by complimenting them and praising them when appropriate.

It found that 74 percent of kids younger than 6 were praised by their mother or father three or more times a day. This held true for 54 percent of children 6 to 11 and 40 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds.

Joe Cotton of the Psychological Center in Lawrence said he finds some of the healthiest families also are the poorest families.

“They have the old values of being together with families,” he said.

“I see this in the Latino community. The family all goes to a child’s soccer game. An upper-class mom may go off to play tennis alone and the child does his or her own thing. Children want to be around their parents even if it’s just to say, ‘Watch me, Mommy.’”

Cotton agrees that families are striving to strengthen their connections.

“I used to say never before in the history of the world has there been so little parental time,” he said. “But I see baby boomers are allowing for more family interaction, making an effort toward being with their children more.”

He cautions, however, that we can’t forget to teach children about becoming independent as they get older.

“One thing, children are staying home a lot longer into their early 20s,” Cotton said. “I think it’s a great thing for families to be close, but not if children can’t become independent, and (they) delay marriage or working.”

The Wells family: Sacrifices worth it to have stay-at-home mom

Dan Wells of Hampstead said he’s never been a coach for any of his three sons’ sports teams.

“Singing and acting is our thing we do together,” he said. “We’ve been in several plays, and it crosses generations.”

Dan and Erika Wells have twins, Jameson and Trevor, 14, and a 15-year-old son, Kaleb.

“Depending on the season, we find ways to do things as a family,” Dan Wells, a guidance counselor at Alvirne High School in Hudson, said.

“You know, I see parents dropping off their kids for rehearsals and practices, but it’s fun for us to do things all together,” he said.

For six weeks in the summer, the family rents a cottage on Big Island Pond in Derry, where they enjoy canoeing and playing board games with no television to distract them. In the winter, they enjoy skiing and snowshoeing.

“We try to have dinner together each night, “ Dan Wells said.

Erika Wells was a stay-at-home mom when the boys were younger.

“We had to make financial sacrifices,” Dan Wells said, “but it’s such a benefit and a blessing if a mom can be at home.”

Erika Wells was named 2006 Volunteer of the Year for her involvement with school-related activities, such as set-building for plays, and organizing the We Deliver Program and Invention Convention. She is a graduate student in experimental psychology at the University of New Hampshire.

All three boys play the trumpet, and next fall, the twins will join Kaleb in Pinkerton Academy’s marching band.

“We’re already volunteering with the music boosters at the high school,” Dan Wells said.

The Calligandes family: Making time together requires juggling

“Every day is different in our house,” Tammy Calligandes said.

Tammy Calligandes, her husband, George, and their two young children, Jacob, 7, and Alexa, 4, live in Londonderry.

George Calligandes is a community relations firefighter with the Londonderry Fire Department. He works 24 hours-on, 48 hours-off shifts.

“Depending on the evening, we try to have dinner together,” Tammy Calligandes said.

They’ve also mastered the art of juggling parental duties.

“Because George teaches two EMT classes, I volunteered to be a den leader,” said Tammy Calligandes, who works a 40-hour week for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services as a waste compliance inspector.

“When we’re home together, one of us will help Jacob with his homework, one cooks, one cleans up,” she said. “Often at night, Jacob will read to his sister.”

If one of the children is sick, the parents alternate who stays home.

Tammy Calligandes said the family goes to church together most Sundays and has lunch out in a restaurant as a treat each week.

“The kids help with cleaning up their rooms, and we typically have a movie night or game night each week,” she said.

Both children play soccer, and Jacob plays basketball. Tammy Calligandes is an assistant coach for her son’s team. The family goes to all the games together.

They value such time together and so limit some activities that could detract from it.

“We do try to restrict television time,” Tammy Calligandes said. “And until recently, we put off getting video games in the house.”

The Harvey family: Single mom says children come first

Linda Harvey is a single mom who decided to adopt two girls from China and create her own family 10 years ago.

The 48-year-old attorney from Methuen said her life revolves around Talia, 8, and Maxine, 11.

“I used to live in Cambridge, but moved to Methuen to cut out travel time,” Harvey said. Her practice is in Methuen, and she is an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law.

Harvey said her office is socially and family-oriented, and that if one of her daughters is sick, she doesn’t go to work. The same goes for the rest of the office staff.

She also doesn’t hesitate to take time off to participate in school and other activities with the girls, she said.

“Unless I have a major case going on, I take a day off to go on field trips,” Harvey said. “My kids are my No. 1 priority and I want to be involved in what they do.”

Talia and Maxine attend an after-school program near Harvey’s office, and the girls often come to hang out with their mom afterward. In their off-time, they plan activities with other people who have kids.

“My friends have children, and we socialize as families,” Harvey said.

Her daughters started a charity, Debbie’s Treasure Chest, with a friend. Through it they collect and distribute clothes, books and small electronics to families in the Merrimack Valley.

“It’s something we do together,” Harvey said.

Harvey and her daughters also attend political events together, with Harvey working to help the children understand age-appropriate issues.

“We sat on the stage with Hillary when she was at Timberlane High School in December,” Harvey said.

They like to travel together, too.

“We are big Manhattan fans,” she said.

And the family is looking forward to a spring trip to Disney World, where Maxine will perform with her dance troupe.

“I chose to have children and I consider being a mom a privilege,” Harvey said. “My favorite thing in life is to be with my children.”

The Sullivan/Joseph family: Desire to be with kids drives career change

For 18 years, Patti Sullivan of Haverhill was a career liaison to the Caribbean for Digital Equipment Corp.

She and her husband, Dick Joseph, have 15-year-old twins, Casey and Callie, sophomores at Haverhill High School.

“When the kids were in the third grade, I started long-term substitute teaching,” Sullivan said. “I wanted to be on the same schedule as them.”

Sullivan said she only has two more years before her children head to college and she doesn’t regret making the career switch at all. She is now a full-time teacher for the Haverhill school district.

“I was missing their school plays and other things,” she said. “Now I am here for all their sporting events. My husband and I try to make them all.”

Casey plays soccer, and Callie participates in field hockey and lacrosse. Joseph works for an insurance company.

Sullivan’s parents live downstairs from her family, and they all try to have dinner together when it’s possible.

“We try to instill good values in the twins,” Sullivan said. “We try to keep tabs on what they’re watching on TV.”

She said they didn’t have any video games in the house for about five years, but now they do have “Guitar Hero,” a popular series of music video games.

“They are really busy kids with sports and their friends,” Sullivan said, “but we take time to be together.”

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