Seven out of 10 children are glued to devices when they're in the car, prompting fears it is curbing crucial family connection and child development.
The study of more than 1000 people commissioned by Ford Australia found 76 per cent of parents with children aged 3 to 16 said their child was typically on a device or watching digital media on car trips.
But the study also found nearly all parents - 95 per cent - still consider family drives the perfect time for bonding and an opportunity to get their kids to open up.
Rebecca Zosel and her partner decided to ban screen time in the car and on weekdays for their school-aged children Oscar, 7, and Liliana, 5, or their baby, when the family got an iPad and the pair started asking for it increasingly often.
She said car trips were a time to debrief as a family, play games or discuss things.
"We don't drive a lot but when we do, we just use the time to talk," she said. "There are sometimes arguments and they get bored or irritated but as a family of five, there are always things to talk about."
"During the week it's very busy so if we're going for a drive on the weekend, it's a chance to debrief."
Ms Zosel said she was surprised to learn she was in the minority of families who go device-free in the car but emphasised screen use shouldn't be "demonised".
The latest Australian Child Health Poll conducted by the Royal Melbourne Children's Hospital found children's device use was directly related to that of their parents.
"It shows how important role modelling is and how screen use habits have to be approached as a family," Australian Child Health Poll director Dr Anthea Rhodes said.
"It is affecting the health and development of kids. Parents reported experiencing problems with sleep in their children related to screen use. Other problems were increased aggression and agitation during or after using screens."
Psychologist Sabina Read said car trips were the perfect opportunity for families to connect.
"We need to be regularly available as parents and car trips are the perfect opportunity. It doesn't have to be a destination drive but when you're in the car, allow it to be the time to be present and enjoy the time together."
"As parents, we often feel desperate to connect. We need to create the space and culture and tone to want to talk."
Both Dr Rhodes and Mrs Read said screen use was unavoidable but it didn't need to invade households.
"We're all very connected to technology," said Mrs Read. "We don't want to demonise it, we just want to have awareness about when to use it and the impact it has on each other."
Advice from the experts on reducing screen time:
- Be aware of how your own screen use might be setting the tone for your children.
- Co-watch things with your children and talk about what they're seeing to encourage positive and protective screen use.
- Research what apps and websites are appropriate for your children. Dr Anthea Rhodes suggests https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews for recommendations.
- Keep phones out of bedrooms to help with sleep and prevent online bullying.
- Use car rides as an opportunity to connect with your children.
- Listen to your children's problems without trying to solve them. Ask "how", not "why" questions to discourage defensive responses.