Is the fidget toy the cure for addictive distractions?

“Keep still and listen,” this was the common phrase aimed at fidgety kids years ago.

In the smart phone age, however, fidgeting is pretty much epidemic, and not just in classrooms. It seems fewer and fewer people can keep still and listen these days.

In business meetings, boredom, anxiety and disinterest are all cured by checking one’s phone, a behaviour that is often contagious. One sees the same when folks are relaxing in front of the TV; how long can a family go before one member picks up the iPad or smart phone?

The ability to focus and concentrate for more than a few minutes, so important to learning, socializing and communicating effectively, seems to be increasingly scarce skills. Efforts to address such problems have generated some novel ideas. There are universities that offer “colouring stations” for students writing exams, for instance.

In office settings the old stand-by of writing-out one’s goals and managing them accordingly no longer seems to be enough. Tactics are being employed such as “no interruption times,” blocking off specific times of the day to work on a defined project, as well as management rewards to the most productive employees.

In elementary schools the efforts to keep the fidgeters focused are leading to mass distractions, rather than better learning environments.

Take the latest gizmo that has been promoted for class use for students who are unable to concentrate due to ADHD — the fidget toy. But alas, the little gizmos have proven so popular that parents are buying them for their kids regardless of whether they actually suffer from ADHD. One Toronto store recently reported selling over 200 fidget toys in a single weekend. And the result of the fidget toy’s unbridled success? Classroom chaos.

Kids are sitting in class, whether they are ADHD or not, and fidgeting with their toys rather than paying attention and learning. Little wonder that teachers are now banning these annoying gizmos for the sake of all the kids in their classes.

What is the solution?

Perhaps the answer isn’t so much in new tools and gizmos as much as it is in old-school remedies that have served kids and adults well for millennia — recess!

Is it any wonder that as schools across North America are reducing the amount of time children have for recess and lunch at work is something adults do in front of their computers that the ability of kids and adults to focus is diminishing?

The scholarly studies on the importance of taking a break abound.

If your kids can’t focus at school, and you can’t concentrate at work, it may be because everyone needs a break. A walk around the block or a vigorous game of dodge-ball in the schoolyard is likely to calm the mind and facilitate the focus kids and parents need to learn, and to work successfully.

The popularity of fidget toys are less a cure and more a symptom of an age looking for quick fixes. Recess and breaks take time, but it is time well spent.



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