Fidget Spinners Are Selling Out Everywhere—Here’s Why

The must-have toys, designed as tools to help people focus, are now making parents and teachers’ heads spin.

fidget-spinner
Photo by Enterline Design Services LLC/Getty Images

What Is a Fidget Spinner?

If you’re asking yourself how an inexpensive piece of plastic is sweeping the nation, you’re not alone. After all, the same kids who are obsessed with fidget spinners, collecting and trading them like baseball cards, are members of the iGeneration—you know, the ones addicted to screens. Nevertheless, these bare bones, no-batteries-required toys made of plastic or metal, featuring a simple finger pad in the center, are giving tablets and mobile devices a run for their money. Like the bottle flipping craze that consumed school children last fall, fidget spinners are allowing kids the opportunity to unplug. Simply pinch the center between two fingers and give it a whirl. Or, if you’re coordinated, rest it on your thumb and let it spin.

The History of Fidget Spinners

What’s wild about their sudden popularity is the fact that they were invented more than twenty years ago. According to Money.com, Orlando, Florida resident Catherine Hettinger, 60, came up with the idea after seeing young boys throw rocks at police officers in Israel. Hettinger returned to the States wanting to create something that would soothe and distract children. Though she pitched her fidget spinners to Hasbro shortly after getting them patented in 1997, the toy giant passed on her low-tech invention. Ultimately, she couldn’t afford to renew her patent, so when it expired in 2005, other manufacturers were able to get into the spin game.

The Benefits of Fidget Spinners

Behavioral specialists have been using fidget tools for years to help patients with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, and anxiety-related conditions. The belief is that the motor activity generated by these tools keeps people from fidgeting and better controls their attention. “It’s common for individuals to crave movement when feeling anxious, as evidenced by motor behaviors such as hair twirling, picking at fingernails, bouncing, or jostling a foot or leg,” explains Stephanie O’Leary, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist and author of Parenting in the Real World.

RELATED: Fidget Spinners: The New Fad Sweeping the Nation

A June 2015 study published in Child Neuropsychology: A Journal on Normal and Abnormal Development in Childhood and Adolescence, by Julie Schweitzer, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, found that children who fidget, wiggle and squirm are actually better able to concentrate than those who are told to sit still. As a result, many teachers not only allow fidget tools in their classrooms, but welcome them the same way they do adapted chairs with foot swings, resistance bands or swiveling capability, explains Robert Duff, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist in Camarillo, California.

Why Some Schools Are Banning Fidget Spinners

However, in the past two months, fidget spinners and fidget cubes have become the toys every child wants, even those without special needs. They are now so prevalent on playgrounds, at lunch tables, and in classrooms that some schools have gone so far as to ban them because they are so distracting.

At Greensboro Day School in Greensboro, North Carolina, Gillian Goodman, M.Ed., M.B.A., the lower school director, discussed the abundance of fidget spinners and how best to deal with them at the monthly faculty meeting earlier this week. “We had a discussion about ‘tools vs. toys’ so that teachers could have some common language to share with students and families about appropriate use,” Goodman explains. “Fidgets are allowed in the classroom as tools for learning at any time of day. As toys, they should only be used at breaks, recess, or other unstructured times approved by teachers.”

Fidget Spinners for Adults

In December 2016, James Plafke, a tech writer for Forbes, declared that fidget spinners would be “the must-have office toy for 2017,” citing higher-end, sleekly-designed versions made of brass, copper, stainless steel and titanium, such as MD Engineering’s Torqbar and EME Tools’ Rotablade Stubby. “If you find your fingers are generally a raw, bloody mess due to your boredom-induced nail-biting,” he wrote, “or you’re driving your cubicle neighbors insane from your desk-drumming and pen-clicking, fidget toys might be the cure for your nervous or bored energy.”

Where to Buy Fidget Spinners

In February 2017, at Toy Fair in New York City, The Toy Association predicted that collectibles would be one of the biggest toy trends of the year, and fidget spinners, which can be purchased for less than $5, definitely fit into that category. However, no one could have guessed just how popular they would become—and how quickly demand would spread. At the Westwood Village location of Aahs, a local chain of gift stores in Los Angeles, salesperson Rajean Dejohnette said they now have lines outside on Saturday mornings with kids waiting to buy one when the doors open. 

For the most part, kids are gravitating toward 3D printed plastic versions in bright colors and patterns, some of which glow in the dark or feature LED lights. Amazon, Etsy, and Walmart are the main sources for most shoppers right now, though numerous independent sites are cashing in on the craze, like AddictiveFidgetToys.com, Fidgetys.com and FingerSpinner.com. In the next few weeks, Toys R Us will have The Fidget Cube by Zuru. The retailer will introduce licensed spinners from Marvel and DC Comics in August, too.

Darren Bradley bought the domain named Fidgetys.com in February after his son came home from school talking about fidget spinners. He now offers more than 275 styles and brands on his site, ranging in price from $2 to $169. Traffic has steadily increased and his site is now getting nearly 1,300 hits a day. In fact, he sold more spinners in the first three days of May than he did the entire month of March, and expects his sales to double—if not triple—in the coming weeks. As with any fad, how long interest will remain is the question.