National Consumers League

Fidget spinners: miracle toy or scam?

Written by Taylor Zeitlin, NCL Intern

It’s funny how we live in an era of fifth graders who have their own cell phones and iPads, yet kids are still finding the most ridiculous, mundane toys to play with. Yes, I’m talking about fidget spinners (this could just as easily have been about silly bands or Shopkins among children just a few years older). The new craze sweeping the nation is surprisingly simple; it is literally a three-pronged metal device with small “bearings” that spins in one’s hand. Despite the simplicity of the toy, kids and parents alike are raving about it.

Originally marketed in the 90s as a helpful tool for children with ADHD, autism, and/or anxiety, the fidget spinner has been around for two decades largely undetected. It wasn’t until early 2017 when the toy became popular, seemingly out of nowhere; the only report I could find of the reason it became such a phenomenon said that it may have come from some popular kid on the playground who started playing with it and it caught on. Even the inventor of the fidget spinner doesn’t understand the recent craze.

Parents have supportively been funding their children’s new obsession because of its supposed effectiveness at curbing attention issues. But school district officials all over the country beg to differ, with rules created that prohibit children from even bringing the toy to school. So what gives? Fidget spinners are cheap, fun, and are said to hold some educational value. So why ban it from schools? Well, despite the simple design of the fidget spinner, a lot of complications have arisen with it. From being a potential choking hazard to the questionable claims put forth by manufacturers, there is more to the fidget spinner than meets the eye.

First of all, there have been multiple incidents of children choking on fidget spinners in the past month. The most notable story was of a 10-year-old girl who was attempting to clean her fidget spinner and had somehow gotten one of the bearings lodged in her throat. Her mother rushed her to the hospital after being unable to remove it via heimlich, and there she was forced to undergo surgery to remove it. A few other nearly identical situations have also been reported. If a 10-year-old can choke on a fidget spinner while simply holding it in her mouth, imagine this toy in the hands of younger children. Despite this, a majority of fidget spinner manufacturers do not include any sort of choking warning to consumers, posing a major threat to parents of young children.

Of course, the product being a choking hazard is generally less of a concern to school districts and more a parental matter. So why take away a product that’s supposed to increase productivity for young kids prone to distraction? Well, the product relies on pseudo-psychology to trick consumers into thinking it helps. With all of the gadgets out there for kids with ADHD, the fidget spinner blends in as a way to alleviate distraction in a classroom setting. As you could probably guess, however, the product has largely only contributed to more interruptions during the school day. There is no scientific data to back up the claims of fidget spinner manufacturers, and numerous classrooms have seen that. Having the toy in class presented a clear problem, and school officials rightfully kept it out of their classrooms.

Despite clear evidence that fidget spinners only create a bigger distraction for users, manufacturers continue to deceive their customers. Several Amazon sellers advertised that it is “ideal for people trying to quit nail biting, smoking, leg shaking and all type of attention disorder issues.”  This is false advertising, and could not be further from the original intended use for the product. The creator of fidget spinners, Catherine Hettinger, wanted the product to be a way to promote peace among children (she drew inspiration from a visit to Israel, where she saw children throwing rocks at police officers). Some of her original aim is coming to fruition with the rising popularity of the fidget spinner - kids are bonding over playing with it - but the advertising surrounding the product today is deceptive. As the sibling of a child with ADHD and autism, I believe the way that manufacturers have continually insisted that the product helps with those issues is exploitative.

Fidget spinners are toys, and sellers who pretend they are more than that are simply misleading consumers. The product is pretty innocuous as long as manufacturers start issuing better safety information and quit trying to make a profit off of false claims that they improve learning. On that note, stay safe, and happy spinning!