The newest trend in toys is being touted as a way to address anxiety, stress, and hyperactivity in kids, but how much do these popular fidget spinners actually help?
According to experts, not very much.
The toy has three prongs surrounding a central disc, which is held between the thumb and index finger. This allows the user to spin the toy around the disc.
These simple spinners have been around for quite some time, but they’ve recently exploded in popularity among Americans of all ages. They were originally designed to control fidgeting and improve overall focus in kids with ADHD or Autism. But while parents are now lining up to buy them and stores are constantly running out of stock, psychologists are quick to point out that there is no concrete scientific evidence or peer-reviewed studies that support the idea that fidget spinners can actually act as a therapeutic aid.
As of 2011, 6.4 million children aged four to 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD. While medication has often been a popular management method, many families want to go a more natural route. In many cases, a combination of environmental changes and behavioral interventions can help improve focus. And even though many experts agree that therapy toys like Silly Putty or squeeze balls can provide a quiet way for hyperactive kids to engage their brains, fidget spinners are different.
As Dr. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist and senior director of the ADHD and Behavioral Disorders Center at Child Mind Institute, pointed out to MONEY, “the distinction between those interventions and [fidget spinners] is that those interventions allow the child to move, but this particular intervention isn’t necessarily letting the child get their wiggles out, but rather play with a toy.”
In fact, many teachers and schools have already banned the use of fidget spinners in their classrooms, saying that instead of alleviating distractions, the spinners are actually causing them.
Dr. Mark Stein, director of ADHD and related disorders at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, is inclined to agree. He’s concerned that parents believe that fidget spinners can replace proven methods of treating ADHD in kids.
“My worry is that they’re very much a distraction, not only to the child, but it distracts people from doing something that we know works,” Stein told MONEY.
Some experts point out that while these spinners may not benefit hyperactive kids, they can help children with anxiety.
Christy Bianconi, a licensed clinical social worker for Clinical Associates of the Southern Tier, told a local news station, “They can benefit children who have sensory issues and people who have anxiety because they’re stress reducing.”
Anxiety disorders affect one in every eight children, and research has shown that kids with untreated anxiety disorders are more likely to do poorly in school, miss out on social experiences, and even engage in substance abuse. If used for the intended audience, these fidget spinners may offer some limited benefits for anxiety.
That being said, there are other ways parents can help address their children’s anxiety.
Experts say that the growing prevalence of social media and technology may be attributing to kids’ stress and anxiety levels. The sheer accessibility of technology may result in an obsession for many kids. In some cases, they may feel anxious if they don’t have their phones, but they may also have heightened levels of stress as a result from social media engagement.
Experts suggest that parents monitor their child’s online activities and overall usage. It’s also important for both children and parents to disconnect from social media and get some real face-to-face time (as opposed to FaceTime).
Ultimately, these fidget spinners may help some kids, but parents may find that being more involved in their children’s lives — rather than silencing them with a novelty toy or putting them in front of a screen — may be much more beneficial in the long run.