Feighan: Are fidget spinners a tool or a distraction?
My 7-year-old got $20 for his birthday last month and within days he’d spent the majority of it on two items, no bigger than a deck of cards, that spin in circles and on your nose if you’re lucky.
They’re called fidget spinners and this hot new toy is so popular it is selling out in a matter of hours in some places.
Fidget spinners are circular toys that spin in and on your fingers. Kids work with them to create different tricks. YouTube has dozens of videos showing various spinning moves.
As popular as they are, they also have some school leaders spinning — in frustration. Schools across Michigan, from Grand Blanc to West Bloomfield, have banned them, calling them more a distraction than a calming tool.
“My own boys admit they are just toys and distract them,” said one teacher friend who has two young sons.
Questions also have emerged about how safe they are. A Dearborn toddler swallowed one of the pop-out disc-shaped lights from a fidget spinner last month (luckily the little boy didn’t require surgery). And concerns also have emerged about lead paint since most fidget spinners are made in China.
As for my son, we said he can bring his spinners to the bus stop — one lights up, the other is a “ninja” spinner — but that’s it. After that, they have to stay in the front pocket of his backpack. So far, it hasn’t been issue — until he nearly lost one.
We were outside a few days ago when he tromped into the backyard where I was pushing my daughter on a swing. Tears poured down his face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“My fidget spinner,” he cried. “It doesn’t spin as well as it used to.” Talk about First World problems. Luckily, with a little cleaning, it spun as good as new in seconds.
But do fidget spinners have any value beyond being a fun toy? Retailers would argue yes. Many claim these doodads actually have therapeutic benefits that can calm kids on the autism spectrum or who have hyperactivity issues such as ADHD. One spinner on Amazon.com, an AyoGu Tri-Spinner High, proclaims it “perfect for ADD and ADHD.”
The reality is no studies have been done to prove that fidget spinners have any bearing on a child’s attention span or hyperactivity. From a teacher’s perspective, anything that distracts kids from learning in the classroom is a nuisance, no matter how calming it may be.
“I’m sure they have a time and a place for some kids, but on the whole they do more harm than good,” said Evin Green, a teacher friend who teaches 10th grade in the Plymouth-Canton schools.
The fidget spinner was invented by a woman in Orlando, Florida. Catherine Hettinger, 62, came up with the spinner in 1997 as a way to entertain her granddaughter, according to the Guardian. She got a patent but couldn’t afford to pay its renewal fee in 2005. It lapsed and soon other companies were selling them.
It’s funny how one toy can suddenly take off — and why. Weren’t we all just hunting Pokemon through our neighborhoods last summer?
Still, I can understand why some parents may be latching on to fidget spinners, especially for those who have children with autism or ADHD. My special needs daughter loves sensory toys and I’m not going to lie: I got her her own spinner. I’ve noticed no difference in whether she’s calmer after using it, but she likes it so I let her play with it.
Tool or toy, it may not matter. In a matter months, fidget spinners will likely be like every other toy that had its brief moment in the spotlight before suddenly disappearing from our collective consciousness: collecting dust.