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The locks on the phones are a brilliant idea. Probably would’ve saved me a lot of trouble.
I absolutely know how you feel. Phones these days are evil, potentially life ruining motherfuckers. I personally don’t have experience raising children since I’m still being raised, so I won’t judge on your choice to take away the phone.
I don’t know how you can make clear to a 12-year old that phones can ruin their lives. They grow up in a society where phones are the norm. I wish I had known the effects back then. However, taking their phones may make them a target for bullying.
Sometimes I attach electronics times as a reward type thing. If there is something that has to be done, cleaning the room for example, I tell the kids they can do it whenever they want to that day but that they do not get electronics back until it is done. Maybe something like that could be a bridge to give them some freedom, but also a way to enforce that it gets done?