Fidget spinners are the latest rage, and stores have trouble keeping them on the shelves. But what do users think of them? I consulted a panel of experts—the kids themselves. As a child clinical psychologist, I asked my patients about what they like about fidget spinners, how they affect attention and learning, and what else they might want to share with me.
Many of the kids said they used fidget spinners to handle stress. There appears to be agreement that fidget spinners alleviate boredom and provide opportunities for meditative breaks while helping to reduce stress. They may be useful on a long car trip, waiting for an activity to begin, or taking a break.
Here are some of the more insightful comments from my interviews with 15 kids with ADHD and learning challenges:
Hannah, a 10-year-old fourth grader, told me that fidget spinners are “fun because you can spin it on your thumb, and it glows in the dark.” She said her fidget spinner “helps me to relax because when it spins it’s calm and makes noise.” She described how her fidget spinner “makes homework easy because I can spin it, and then write down the stuff. I look at it and do my homework, and the spinner makes it more funner to do it, so it goes faster.”
Ryan, an eight-year-old second-grade student, likes fidget spinners “because I get to spin it and see different colors.” He uses it as a diversion. “I play with it a couple of times and then do my work.” He also reported using it while waiting for his video game to load. Ryan uses a fidget spinner to make boring times more exciting.
Sarah, a seven-year-old second-grader, said: “I like them because they keep my mind off things coming up, like my recital for gymnastics next Saturday.” She reported that her fidget spinner “makes me focus so I know what the teacher is saying and I can remember better.”
Sophie, an 11-year-old fifth-grade student, reported that her fidget spinner “takes my mind off the stress, and it puts me into a trance.” When asked whether it helps her focus in school, she noted, “Not really, because it takes my mind off of school. It distracts you when you look at it, and you know how they say look at the speaker. So if you are not directly looking at the teacher, it’s hard to pay attention.”
Artis, a 10-year-old fourth-grade student, got a fidget spinner “because everyone keeps showing them to me.” He reported that he is able to spin with his left hand and write with his right hand, but quickly added that for “lots of kids, it distracts them from writing.” He also said that he likes using a fidget spinner when he’s “reading the sad part or an ending of a book, because the fidget spinner is really made for stress, and I want to use it for stress.”
Ethan, an eight-year-old third-grade student, told me that fidget spinners are fun and reported that they “help me because I can hold it and concentrate more, and I have something to do if I get bored.” He noted that a fidget spinner “doesn’t help me with writing because I need to use both hands, but if I’m reading a boring part of a book, it might be helpful.” Ethan’s mother, who is a substitute teacher, commented that fidget spinners are often disruptive in the classroom, but noted they might be helpful while sitting in a car or waiting for a table in a restaurant.
Noel, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, said, “When you’re mad, you’re supposed to use your fidget spinner. So when I get mad, I bring it out, and it calms me down.” According to Noel’s mother, he and his brother love their fidget spinners and sleep with them. They “use them to get their attention on something else.”
Christine, a 14-year-old ninth-grade student, said that she got her fidget spinner because she gets bored. She does not see it helping with focus, noting that it’s “more of a distraction. People spin it a lot and don’t pay attention, it makes noise, and it’s annoying.”
Teddy, a 13-year-old eighth-grade student, explained that he likes fidget cubes more than fidget spinners because the cubes help him focus better. He speculated that a fidget spinner could be helpful “because I have ADHD, and it might help me not act out as much because it would keep me content.” But according to Teddy, the fidget cube makes it easier to pay attention because “rather than moving things around my desk, putting my things in my pockets, messing with my shoes, I can pay more attention to what the teacher is telling me to do.”
So if we are to follow the recommendations of my kid scientists, fidget spinners are probably best not to take to school, because it’s unlikely to help the child pay attention. It may, however, help children manage stress, make a boring task more engaging, and reduce impulsive behavior.