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Fidget Spinners: Spiraling Out Of Control?

Published: June 16, 2017

With every new toy craze comes its fair share of criticism, but love them or hate them, fidget spinners seem to be in the hands of young people everywhere, and Newtown is no exception.

The upward trajectory of the toy took off earlier this year and has not shown signs of stopping.

What many do not know is that the original prototype of the popular toy is credited to having been created in 1993 by Catherine Hettinger for her daughter Sara. The inventor from Florida traveled to Washington, DC, in 1997, to patent her design.

In 2005, unable to make the payments to renew the patent, it expired and her toy’s fidgeting concept was picked up and reinvented by a number of manufacturers, including brothers Matthew and Mark McLachlan from Denver. The two, whose company is called the Antsy Labs, created a Kickstarter account for their “Fidget Cube” and raised nearly $6.5 million.

Fast forward to 2017, and there are more fidget spinner gadgets than you can balance on all ten fingers, toes, nose, forehead — you get the picture.

Commonly referred to just as “spinners” they come in practically every color and design imaginable. Basic versions tend to be the three or two circular prongs, with a ball bearing in the center, and are made of a mixture of plastic and metal.

No matter how many prongs there are, the spinner is always short enough to pass through the thumb and finger with ease as the person holding it pinches the center circle.

Mass Appeal

With so many styles of fidget spinners on the market, including popular light-up designs and glow-in-the-dark versions, they have become a highly sought-after toy for boys and girls looking to build a collection.

Middle Gate School student Nicholas DeBlasi found out about fidget spinners from his friends who had them and went on to collect three spinners.

His mother, Debbie DeBlasi, said her son began watching fidget spinner videos online to learn how to “modify” them, like painting them, and to research different tricks to perform.

Beyond just spinning the toy between two fingers, many users have tried to come up with creative ways to use it, like balancing the toy on one finger as it spins, timing how fast the spinner can keep rotating on a flat surface, and tossing the fidget in the air to see if they can catch it while it still spins.

Nicholas said he sees how fidget spinners can help alleviate stress, but that they can take someone’s concentration off of anything, because they are fun to play with.

His mother and Nicholas agree that they see fidget spinners as more of a “toy than a tool.”

For that reason, as well as for reports of them getting stolen and that there is a risk of injury involved with the toy, fidget spinners are being banned in many schools across the county.

Newtown Middle School’s Assistant Principal James Ross said that even though there is no formal policy on fidget spinners for the school’s students, it is at the discretion of the teachers to see when it is beneficial or distracting.

Some schools require special permission for students to bring them in to use if they are needed.

Thirteen-year-old Juliana Miraldi, from the Young Adult Council at the C.H. Booth Library, says using her fidget spinner is “really relaxing.”

Despite them getting banned in schools, and in turn losing some popularity, she finds that fidget spinners do help her focus.

“When I don’t have it, I tend to doodle on my paper and not pay attention,” Juliana said. “But with it, I have something to do while I listen.”

Many children like Juliana feel the same, and it raises the discussion of how beneficial they can be for people who wish to use them as a tool to focus on tasks or relax.

Causing Or Relieving Stress?

With all the controversy surrounding fidget spinners having health benefits or not, Newtown Resiliency Center Founder/Executive Director Stephanie Cinque weighed in on the conversation.

As a local resource for providing trauma-informed assistance and community wellness programs, the Newtown Resiliency Center helps many individuals who are coping with stress.

“We don’t have them in any of our programs; however, clients do come in with them and bring them into the session,” Ms Cinque said.

In those cases, she says that therapists will ask them to put the fidget spinner down before starting their discussion, similar to their rules about cellphones during sessions.

“If you don’t have the ground rules they can be more distracting,” said Ms Cinque. “All kids, as we know, really need expectations to be set and have to be kept to those expectations.”

She views fidget spinners as having the potential to help someone focus, but that ultimately they are a toy trend.

“The number of kids that have them compared to the number of kids who need to be helped soothed or regulated is way disproportionate,” Ms Cinque said.

At home, her two children, an 8-year-old and 10-year-old, have numerous fidget spinners and enjoy playing with them as a toy.

She acknowledges that fidget spinners may have originally been created as a remedy for decreasing stress, but that she has not personally heard of other wellness centers incorporating them into their therapeutic models.

At Newtown Resiliency Center, she explained, “We are big believers in children who have sensory issues or who need help regulating to have a sensory box.”

The sensory box she suggests can have handheld items similar to fidget spinners, like stress balls and putty.
For parents who do have concerns that their child may have increased stress and are looking for an outlet, Ms Cinque recommends other alternatives to center one’s self.

“Some great self-soothing techniques that help regulate are simple breathing techniques that aren’t a distraction to others and don’t have a cost involved,” said Ms Cinque.

Box breathing, for example, can be done by breathing in and holding for four seconds then exhaling while counting to four.

Regardless of how long the fidget spinner trend will last, the only thing that is certain about these toys is that just as quickly as they spin, there will be a new item on the market looking to get in the restless hands of consumers.

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