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If Fidget Spinners Worry You, You've Got Bigger Problems

Photograph by Twenty20

If I'd actually read all the articles that have been published lately about how parents are doing their kids a disservice by not allowing them to sufficiently explore the dull sensation of boredom, surely I'd be an expert on the topic. The reality, though, is the articles are, well, boring (or, rather, hardly groundbreaking).

So I've yet to read one from start to finish.

My 5- and 8-year-old daughters struggle with boredom frequently. Rather, I struggle with their boredom, because they seem to think their entertainment is my job. I beg to differ. When they complain that I don't allow iPods in the car, for instance, I suggest they look at the big screens with the moving landscape and cars to their left and right in the back seat. They have plenty of stuff to play with plus brains in their heads.

They'll figure it out. I'm not so worried.

I wasn't worried, either, when my 8-year-old asked me to buy her a fidget spinner. They may have been originally marketed to kids battling ADD and ADHD as a way to focus and relieve anxiety, but it's quickly gaining on slime as the Most Popular Toy Ever (for this month, anyway). It's a harmless-enough gadget that's oddly satisfying to tinker with, thanks to its "high performance hybrid ceramic ball bearing" that can spin for up to three minutes without effort. The minor reward of the entire fidget spinner experience reminds me of the "whoosh" sound on my smartphone letting me know a text has been successfully sent, or people with the super-cool ability to make a water drop sound effect with their mouth: It means very little but it's like a little wink of happiness.

Of course, it would seem that no good thing can ever just be left alone. Now there's a mounting backlash against fidget spinners—including in my 8-year-old's class, where her teacher has banned them. She doesn't need it to pay attention, so it's not the end of the world. If her holding a toy for mild amusement's sake ends up distracting others, then, sure, I can see where it would defeat a larger purpose in an educational setting.

At home, though, I don't necessarily suggest my daughter plays with her fidget spinner rather than whine about not knowing what to do. Sometimes a toy is just a toy. For all the lofty reasons laid out in the case against fidget spinners, I'm not worried about a device no larger than my palm setting my kid off on a bad and dangerous path. She can play with it or not. Either way, I'm not going make her sit on a chair and and learn to love to the feeling of not knowing what to do.

I've also realized the fidget spinner is a nice diversion from some of my regularly scheduled activities and thoughts. I've taken my daughter's (until the one I bought for myself arrives in the mail, that is) in bed with me at night to play with while I'm reading or watching TV. If there's something I don't need before sleep, it's to repeat in my mind for the nth time everything that's outstanding, as in not done, in my life. The fidget spinner doesn't help me solve problems or check off items on my to-do list, although it allows me to not think about them momentarily.

In other words, it's a gift.

The cons list for fidget spinners is lengthy and includes things like taking kids' "brains to the next level of instant gratification. Moreover, again and again, we buy our children what they want, the moment they want it, without thinking if it is truly what they need." Still, the pro column cannot be emphasized enough: It's just a toy. It's not burning anyone (like slime), bullying anyone (like Snapchat) or choking anyone (like cinnamon). If a kid can derive some amusement from something that doesn't require a wifi passcode and a plug, and if it means Mom can have a little peace and her own distraction from stress or monotony, are we really worried that a 9-ounce, $5.08 device that will probably get irretrievably lost before Memorial Day?

Yeah, no.

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