The best place to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with loved ones may be the family drive.
However, research by Ford Australia finds that while 95% of parents feel family drives present an excellent opportunity for bonding, screen time is invading the experience.
It says 76% of parents with children aged 3 to 16 years found their child typically is on a device or watching digital media during this time.
Psychologist and Australian social commentator Sabina Read believes it’s a habit Australian families should try to break.
“It’s worrying that these days people often seem more connected to a virtual world than to their own family, friends and what’s really around them,” she says in a statement. “It’s important to find ways to escape our devices and reconnect with each other.”
The Ford survey found Australian parents believe the average acceptable age for mobile-device ownership is 11 years old, with 20% of parents saying mobile ownership for children as young as 5 to 9 years old is acceptable.
The Australian Department of Health advises parents to limit screen time for children, specifically the use of electronic media for entertainment to no more than two hours a day.
“As hard as it may be, parents, partners and friends can reclaim personal and family time by going screen-free, such as on weekend excursions or a Sunday drive,” Read says. “Research tells us that car trips can provide a great social connection point, so it’s a worthwhile space and time Aussies should consider for family bonding and play.”
The survey found time in the car can help spark kids’ imaginations and get them talking, and it doesn’t take long. Some 48% will open up within five minutes of being in the car, while 92% open up within half an hour.
“The best conversations often happen in cars for a few reasons, from no eye contact to fewer distractions, providing a safe space for loved ones, especially children, to open up,” Read says.
The destination also may impact the quality of in-car conversation, with 70% of Aussie parents saying a trip somewhere new inspires the most excitement in their kids, followed by a trip to see friends or family (49%), or a trip to the beach (48%).
The car space also provides a social connection point for couples and friends.
For couples and friends taking a drive without kids, family still comes first, with 32% of respondents noting family as the leading topic of meaningful discussion in the car. This is followed by plans for the future (18%), and school/work (14%).
Among those aged 18 to 34, 48% felt the car was a safe space to discuss planning a family.
Ford says with all the pressures of modern living, finding a screen-free space and time for families and adults to bond can be tough, but the solution may be as simple as a short Sunday drive.
The survey found Australians believe the car provides a great place and time for family bonding because it provides an escape from the demands of home life (63%), offers fewer distractions (59%), allows listening to music (51%), offers an opportunity to enjoy the passing scenery (43%) and gives an opportunity to put away mobile devices (35%).
Australian parents believe the car is the place for family bonding mainly because “it’s good to escape the day-to-day demands of home life for a while” (63%), offers “fewer distractions” (59%) and it’s “easy to open up have conversations/for children to open up for conversations” (42%).
Among adults in the car with a partner or friends, 63% are regularly on devices, checking social media, making calls and reading or sending emails. However, 79% also engage in conversation.
The survey by the Galaxy Omnibus polling and market-research firm involved 1,259 Australians aged 18 years and older with a vehicle, distributed throughout Australia by age, gender and region.