Parents are quite fidgety lately asking me whether fidget spinner toys really help children and adults focus better. Let me see if I can spin some information your way on this topical topic.
Fidget Spinners: What Are They?
Fidget spinners are palm-sized, two-or-three pronged devices. Users pinch them between the middle forefinger and thumb and then spin with a finger of their other hand.
Some think that spinning the device, as well as transferring it between the fingers, helps those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or what we call ADHD. Supposedly, spinners can also improve the focus of people with other behavioral disorders, such as anxiety and autism.
Some parents will anecdotally say they are helpful to reduce fidgeting. But behavioral psychologists and other experts say there is no good data that these devices work better than a simple removal of distractions.
The Problem With Fidget Spinners
As happy as a child may be playing with one of these spinners, teachers are often less enthralled. Spinners can be quite distracting when used by children who don’t have ADHD or other behavioral issues. In fact, in some classes, teachers report children with or without ADHD focus more on the devices than on what is being taught. As a result, some schools ban spinners.
Besides annoying others in the classroom or at home, are there other risks to these devices? There can be. For example, children under three could put a spinner into their mouths and bite off pieces, causing a choking hazard.
So what can you do?
Don’t allow children under three to use a spinner. Talk with your child’s health care professional to see if they think there is value in other children using one.
Be aware there are well-studied behavioral and pharmacologic treatments for ADHD and anxiety. Those treatments should be your first priority, not the use of this popular device.
Hopefully tips like this will spin you in the right direction when it comes to understanding the risks and unproven benefits of your child using a fidget spinner.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.