“When you have to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way.”

Hey, Moms and Dads: If you were happy to see the recent headline that kids who watch “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” are improving their social skills, you might want to read the fine print. It turns out that there’s an important caveat: The results applied only to kids whose parents actually watched the PBS show with them and talked to them about it both during and afterward.

Ugga Mugga.

In an article in the Journal of Children and Media, researchers at Texas Tech and the University of Oregon report the results of a study on 127 preschoolers who watched various episodes of the cartoon (which is a spinoff of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”). They found that watching the show “was associated with higher levels of empathy, but only for preschoolers” whose parents interacted with them in productive ways about the show.

Parents are supposed to sit with their children during the show and “try to help your child integrate what they learn … into their own life,” “ask your child questions about what they are watching,” “repeat dialogue your child heard,” “point out the good things that characters do,” “tell your child that you agree with the message,” “encourage your child to imitate the behavior of characters” and on and on.

Rachel Barr, a professor of psychology at Georgetown, says the notion that young children need parents around in order to gain any real emotional or cognitive benefits from technology has been borne out by other studies as well.

In her own work with infants and toddlers, she has found that a parent’s presence can more than double the chances that a child figures out a task on a touch screen and a parent who is “warm and responsive and sensitive and uses clear language” can increase the likelihood of success even more.

None of this is news, of course. As far back as the early studies on “Sesame Street,” it was clear children learned the lessons of the show much better when there were adults around to reinforce them. The problem is that most parents (even educated ones, whose families weren’t the target audience) didn’t see TV as an opportunity for them to help their child learn new words and concepts or better social skills. They saw it as an opportunity to make dinner in peace. Or have a conversation without interruption. Or relax.

The ubiquity of screens has made the temptation to use them as a distraction that much greater. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking our kids are getting anything out of them without our input. Barr says that “just as you wouldn’t expect a 15-month-old to be able to know what a book means on their own, you shouldn’t expect them to do it with a screen either.”

We’ve come to think of watching a show as a “passive activity,” something that will allow children to sit back and relax for a while. But as Heather Kirkorian, who directs the Cognitive Development and Media Lab at the University of Wisconsin, notes, “They’re working hard to understand what they’re seeing symbolically.”

Most parents, though, don’t think about screens in the same way we think about books. We think screens are supposed to do all the work. And it certainly seems that they do.

They keep children occupied for hours when a book or a set of blocks probably wouldn’t.

Kirkorian tells parents that “you have to use screens as a tool to engage a child.” But when she listens to parents in a focus group, for instance, they say, “I just hand it to him for half an hour and he’s quiet.”

Parents may try to assuage their guilt when they hear certain kinds of apps can be educational. Others may believe that their kids are gaining important skills simply because they’re mastering the technology and have learned how to swipe to make the next picture come up on screen or to pause a video.

While most of the researchers who study the impact of technology on early childhood say moderate amounts of screen time won’t do any permanent damage to children’s cognitive or social skills, they don’t want parents to fool themselves into thinking that screen time, especially for young children, is a substitute for real, live adults teaching them things. Doing so would really be living in the Neighborhood of Make Believe.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum