As recommendations abound about how many minutes a child should spend with a digital device, one internationally recognized leader at the intersection of technology and early childhood is challenging parents and educators to consider quality, not just quantity.TEC-Center-tablet-2-175x150

“While time is important, it shouldn’t be the chief metric,” says Chip Donohue, Ph.D., of Erikson Institute in Chicago, the nation’s premier graduate school in child development that is driving new knowledge about the developmentally appropriate use of technology in early childhood.

Dr. Donohue recommends five things every parent, caregiver and educator should consider when thinking about “screen time” in the digital age:

  1. All screens are not created equal. Look for media experiences that are interactive, include positive interactions with others and give children control.
  1. Shift from “how much” children watch to “what they watch.” [VIDEO] Consider the quality of the content, level of engagement and opportunity for interactions.
  2. Manage your own screen use thoughtfully. Children learn habits by watching the adults around them, so model healthy media habits early and often.
  1. Watch together. Joint engagement with media promotes learning.
  1. Plan for unplugged time. Ask, “What can we do together when we turn off the screen?” Encourage playtime, including outdoor time.

“Most screen time limits are based on one child passively watching one TV,” Dr. Donohue says. “Technology and our understanding of it have come a long way.”

Don’t have time to research the best shows and apps? Start with a few minutes of active engagement—watching or playing on a device with your child—and ask your child questions about what he or she is watching, Dr. Donohue says.

Dr. Donohue, who directs Erikson’s Technology in Early Childhood Center, is a senior fellow at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media and speaks throughout the world on technology in early childhood.