What I’m about to say, admittedly, falls outside conventional wisdom when it comes to kids and cell phones. It's a suggestion that will not work for everyone, and it comes with its own set of challenges. But I think it’s worth considering.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

Maybe it's a smart move for parents to give kids their first cell phone before they become teenagers.

A radical idea? Perhaps. But consider this: your average 10-year-old may be more likely to use a smartphone safely and sensibly than your average 13-year-old. There’s ample evidence that by the time kids hit puberty, their brains are programmed to seek out risks and to push toward peers and away from parents. There's an argument to be made that a 10-year-old, whose brain is not yet flooded with adolescent hormones, is in a more stable position to appreciate the risks of smartphone use than his future 13-year-old self.

There’s an additional benefit to giving a younger pre-teen a smartphone: Teaching kids how to use such a powerful device—and use it sensibly—is a long process. By starting early, you let your child internalize the basic safety lessons well before her life becomes cluttered by peer pressure and poor adolescent judgment.

Toilet training lessons, applied

After potty-training four kids, I can attest that it's easier to do with a still compliant two-year-old, than with a three-year-old who has reached the Age of Resistance. There's a moment when every toddler goes from wanting to please you to wanting to do whatever it is you don't want him to do. This is completely developmentally appropriate. Child-rearing is not a perfect science, of course, so each child reaches this point on his own timeline. If you are paying close attention, and know what's coming, you can time potty-training so it happens when your toddler is physically capable of using the toilet but still in the psychologically compliant stage. (If you've ever heard another parent brag that their child was potty-trained in a single day—this is the reason why: timing!)

When considering the ideal age to introduce a smartphone into your pre-teen's life I'd say that's as good a guideline as any: wait until she's physically capable of using it safely (10 is the minimum age for me, personally), but before she reaches her second Age of Resistance.

Balancing safety and responsibility

It's not only a good idea to carefully consider the age at which to hand your kid a smartphone, but also consider phasing it in.

I see a precedent for this in the case of the Graduated Driver’s License. Until quite recently, most states had pretty straightforward driving requirements. Once you turned sixteen and passed the driver’s test you were set loose on the road. But by the mid-1990's, researchers began noticing some unsettling statistics. The leading cause of death for U.S. teens? Car crashes. Additionally, the risk seemed particularly high in the first months after teens became licensed. Other notable factors in these accidents—like teens riding with other teens—stood out. So states began to make changes to their laws to reflect this new information.

The impact was immediate. In 2007 in Illinois, 155 teens between the ages of 16 and 19 died in automobile crashes. In 2008, that number fell to 92. Those results track with findings on GDLs [Graduated Driver Licensing] nationally. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, states with strong GDL laws have cut accidents among young drivers by 40 percent, with injuries down 38 percent.

There’s a balance to be struck here. As journalist Alan Greenblatt points out in his essay, What is the Age of Responsibility, there is no perfect formula for determining when individuals are ready for various adult responsibilities.

Would the roads be even safer if the driving age were 25? Probably. But the GDL [Graduated Driver's License] approach at least recognizes that young drivers are at their most dangerous in their first six months on the road. GDLs give adolescents time to practice, with less risk to themselves and other drivers. Their brains may not always make the best judgments about how fast to drive at night or in the rain. But that's somewhat compensated for by the experience they're getting behind the wheel. "The science says that what you want to do with kids is what parents and grandparents know," says [Ronald] Dahl, [professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh]. "If you give them freedom and they can handle it, then they get a little bit more."

Author, Alan Greenblatt

This strikes me as breathtakingly good advice when it comes to kids and smartphones. Give kids a basic phone and some basic instructions for how to use it sensibly. Then, over time, let them graduate to doing more. The iPhone is pretty well equipped with parental controls and there are other ways to monitor kids' use of riskier things like social media accounts.

The biggest risk I see in giving kids early access to a smartphone is that if they've got it, they'll use it. So know in advance that you're going to need to set firm limits on use.

Ideally, you want to give kids the chance to internalize the rules and limits you set. What you don't want is to add an additional two years of heavy technology use to a life that will be full of devices and screens soon enough. The goal (elusive, I know) is to let kids get over the novelty of having a smartphone at an age where you, as a parent, still have influence in their lives.

Before you let them get behind the wheel of a smartphone...

At the risk of beating the driving analogy to death, here are a few words of advice: When a kid is first learning the rules of the road, don't let them use their phones after dark. Don't let them do the social media equivalent of driving with peers in the car (Hello, Snapchat). And consider riding in the passenger seat—just until they get the hang of it.