Why we should have seen the fidget spinner craze coming

By: Kelsey Fox

Fidget spinners. We've all heard of them. If you're a teacher or a parent, they've probably invaded your life to the point that you're sick to death of these tri-cornered devices. Even if you've only heard about them, what you've heard can't be good. Between the anti-spinner memes and the endless complaining about the kids who use them, pretty much all fidget spinner-related discussions on social media are about how much of a nuisance they are and how annoying the kids are who love them. How could kids these days be so enamored of such a simple device? It is truly a testament to the low expectations we have bestowed on this group of youngsters, it is not?

Well, perhaps you're forgetting the "fidget spinners" of the past. You-- yes, even you-- have almost certainly once fallen victim to an annoying toy trend at some point or another in your youth. Don't think so? Well surely you remember such captivating trinkets as...

The yo-yo

Popularized in America in the late 20s, this toy's trendiness waxes and wanes, but the 60s and the 90s both saw a huge uptick in yo-yo use. Whether you're a Baby Boomer or a Millennial, surely you remember when yo-yos were all the rage. And what were they good for? Truly nothing. Oh sure, you could learn tricks and find cool new, albeit still limited ways to play with them, but overall, they went up and down, up and down, up and down, and sometimes got tangled or unspooled on the way. But when we were playing with them as kids, they were endlessly entertaining, and surely a nuisance in one way or another to the adults who had to hear our failed attempts at Walking the Dog day in and day out.

Slap bracelets

Image credit: Imgur

Literally just some old measuring tape wrapped in fabric, these late 80s accessories were all the rage in kids' fashion leading into the 90s. We loved them. We would open and close them over and over, or slap them on a friend's wrist when they weren't looking. Considering how these could actually do some damage (especially if the fabric frayed and the thin metal underneath was able to cut you), I'd venture an argument that they're a tad bit more of a nuisance than today's fidget spinners, but they're still a pointless toy that entertained us for days on end.

Finger boards

Remember when we all just wanted a a tiny skateboard so we could pretend our fingers were legs and the edge of our binder was a railing primed for some sick grinding? These little dudes were invented in the 1950s but had a big resurgence in the 80s and 90s. There were finger bikes and finger snowboards too, and, according to Wikipedia, the World Snowboard Fingerboard Championships actually existed. The first was held in December of 1999 with a cash prize of $1,000.00. Yes, really. Someone one a thousand bucks for being really good at pretending to snowboard with their fingers. There's no way this isn't at least as stupid as fidget spinners. But I don't think it's even the stupidest trend on the list. That one has to go to...

The pet rock

Image credit: Imgur

Folks of the 70s bought so many of these that even though the inventor was selling them at a reasonable (I guess?) $4 a pop, he became a millionaire. I feel like anyone annoyed at fidget spinners right now who gave their hard-earned money for a someone to ship them a literal rock doesn't have much of a leg to stand on.

So what's the point? Well, it shouldn't surprise us at all that fidget spinners are so big right now. Every few years something new and equally silly comes out and fills the idle time of a generation for a while. The hate these new toys are the focus of is really unfounded. We've all enjoyed something equally as silly and pointless at some juncture, and we grew out of it just like the fidget spinner users of today will.

But that's not the only reason we should have seen this trend coming. You may have noticed that the pet rock is the only object on this list that doesn't also cause a distraction like the others. Its inclusion was simply to show that this generation is not the first to become obsessed with something anyone on the outside would consider ridiculous, but aside from the rock, the other entries on the list point us to the bigger lesson we should take away. There is a universal truth that has held strong across the generations: Kids love to fidget. They want to move! But we put them in school for 8 hours a day and tell them to sit still, and for many kids, this is near impossible. And that's where fidget spinners come in.

Fidget spinners are toys, for sure, not a medical device for the treatment of ADHD or other concentration issues, a point about which I want to remain clear, but the fact of the matter remains that kids learn better when they're moving. It's best of all when that movement is in the form of exercise, according to NY Mag, but I've still heard of very few teachers incorporating movement into their math or science or reading lesson plans, so kids remain yearning to fidget. This Washington Post article, "Why so many kids can't sit still in school today" outlines some issues of our current teaching methods, explaining that "children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. [...]They are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to 'turn their brain on.' What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to 'sleep.'"

So while teachers and parents often look at fidget spinners and other silly trends that encourage kids move when they should be still as a problem, the truth is these devices are not the instigators of kids' unending motion, but rather they are a symptom of a bigger issue which would still exist even in a world where fidget spinners or yo-yos were never invented. The Post article continues, "Fidgeting is a strong indicator that children are not getting enough movement throughout the day. We need to fix the underlying issue. Recess times need to be extended and kids should be playing outside as soon as they get home from school. Twenty minutes of movement a day is not enough! They need hours of play outdoors in order to establish a healthy sensory system and to support higher-level attention and learning in the classroom."

So, while fidget spinners aren't fixing any problems themselves (though there are many people using anecdotal evidence in an effort to insinuate that they are, there haven't been any long-ranging studies to prove or deny the claims conclusively. Currently, scientists seem to think they're ineffective and possibly distracting, rather than useful for increasing focus.), their use shouldn't surprise us. First, because we've all fallen victim to ridiculous childhood trends of pointless toys, and so we should perhaps judge their use a little less harshly. Secondly, we should have seen this (or something like it) coming from a mile away, because the need to fidget is an indication of a larger problem we still are failing to address: The fact that we expect our kids to sit still at all.

Until we change the way we engage with our children in the classroom, we should expect to continue to see the use of fidget spinners, or whatever new movement-based toy comes out next, remain constant. Until we get our kids moving, they'll flock to whatever new gadget has been made to satisfy that need we continue to ignore. Once it was the slap bracelet. Or the finger board. Or a thousand other things over the years. Right now, it's the fidget spinner.