Spinners: Are They Spinning Out of Control?

What is a spinner?  For the uninitiated, a “spinner” is touted as a stress relieving toy, acclaimed for its ability to calm those who fidget, with an outlet that will allow for improved focus and concentration.  The toy itself is quite simply a ball bearing inserted in the center of a flat, shaped, piece of plastic, metal, or other material, allowing the user to place it between their fingers and spin freely.  At first glance, this obsession sweeping the nation, both for adults and children, is innocent and innocuous.  But if we look more closely, specifically in classrooms in schools the world around, things are not as innocent as they seem.  While some believe they work well, the reality is, as with everything, that things may not be so rosy after all.  So, before you go out and buy your child a spinner so they can fit in and not be left behind, here is a quick list of pros and cons for you to consider:

Pros:

1-    The spinner DOES work.  It helps to relieve nervous energy otherwise expressed in disruptive habits such as tapping hands, feet, pens and pencils.  It also helps eliminate tics such as nail biting, skin picking, and hair pulling.

2-    In the proper environment (i.e. therapist/counselor’s office), the spinner assists clients in expelling nervous energy when discussing difficult topics including past trauma, disclosure of abuse, and any other hard to discuss adverse events.  It is amazing how much more children AND adults are both willing to discuss when they have something, such as a spinner, to fidget with.  This benefit can expand to the classroom, where a student can focus better on the lesson with a quiet outlet for that energy, when used appropriately.

3-    The spinner is small, fits in a pocket, and most are silent.  If the spinner is used appropriately, it is usually not a distraction to others.

4-    There could be some benefit to those with sensorimotor/tactile needs, but this is yet to be proven in any meaningful or evidence based studies.

Cons:

1-    The majority of children have no need for these toys whatsoever; instead, they want them.  As they have caught on, every child does not want to be left out from the craze.  This opens the door for, yet, another way to tease/harass/bully. 

2-    As with all fads, they are a HUGE distraction in the school as a whole, and in individual classrooms.  Students are selling them as a side business in the halls and in classrooms throughout instructional time.  Students are disassembling and trading out colored components with each other instead of doing school work.  Pieces fall off (they loosen up when taken apart) and while spinning; bearings will fly off, sometimes across the room, disrupting the entire class, or worse, physically striking another student.  Some of them do make noise while they spin, and at times, some students hit the desk or drop them all together. 

3-    For the majority of students who don’t require such a device, even when working properly and quietly engaging in the spinning activity, students are more focused on the look and feel of the spinning, including the speed with which they can spin and duration of the spin, so much so that they are wholly unfocused on the lesson and teacher- the OPPOSITE of what you are promised with your spinner purchase. 

4-    Students misplace, lose, or have spinners stolen constantly which, in addition to the increased bullying, adds to increase in discipline and time out of class related to complaints and trips to the lost and found (which nothing ever makes it to anyway).

The bottom line is simple.  Spinners are a toy and there is no authentic research to prove advertising claims.  That is not to say that they are not helpful; instead, that they are best utilized in specific places, with a rules put in place to govern use.  Should you decide to buy your child a spinner, they are best left at home during the school day, or kept away just like cellphones and gaming devices (many schools will take them away if being used inappropriately, requiring a trip to the school to pick it up). 

If you think your child can benefit from the use of a spinner, the place to start is with a phone call to teachers and the guidance office in order to discuss why you feel like your child can benefit, and to explore with the educators the potential causes of poor focus and attention, as well as other solutions, including a possible 504 plan or IEP update, which officially provide additional school-based support for your child.  Often, as a school social worker, it is my experience that there are many routes to improvement and none of them start with a spinner, although no one ever said it can’t include a spinner, if deemed necessary and used appropriately.

Written by: Justin S. Linefsky, LCSW, CAADC

 

June is Men's Health Month- Four mental health tips for men to stay at the top of their game in all of their roles

What exactly is Men’s Health?  I think we all imagine the magazine, with a healthy, fit man on the cover eating something green or lifting something heavy, probably with sculpted arms and a chiseled chest, smiling at us with bleached teeth and perfect hair.  But I contend that is NOT what men’s health is.  That is not who most men are.  Can a typical male become that?  Yes.  Is that the pinnacle of a healthy man though?  No.  Prostate exams after 40?  Vitamins to stave off some deficiencies and disease?  Regular exercise to reduce your risk of heart problems?   Is that Men’s Health?  Ok, sure, it is definitely a part of it, but what do most people completely forget?  They forget that the mind is the control center for the entire body.   Today, for Men’s Health month, I want to give you a list to keep in mind of Four mental health tips for men to stay at the top of their game in all of their roles.

The mind has the ability to excite, inhibit, fantasize and dream, be lazy or create drive.  The mind is exceptional in all that it can do, and all that it can control.  Here is a list of 4 mental health items for men to work on this men’s health month that will have major benefits in all other categories, including all the things first mentioned, if that is what you actually desire.  The point is that if you master these things, you will master yourself; not just for a day, but for the long haul.  It is a bumpy flight and life doesn’t always go perfect.  This is your ticket to less turbulence.


1. Work Life Balance- There is a reason I am listing this first.  I believe this is of the utmost importance for anyone.  This is something commonly discussed in context of family life but it does not matter if you have a spouse, children, care for your parents, live with your parents, only attend college and don’t even have a job yet, so on and so forth.  The fact is that those things only make it matter more, and should you not be able to balance these work and life satisfactorily where you are right this second, it will only be more difficult and cost more energy, frustration, and peace of mind when you get to the next part of your life.  Wherever you are, start right now.  Know where work ends and the rest of your life starts.  Know that you work so that you can live and you don’t live so you can work.  Put down the phone, don’t check that email.  Look at your spouse, child, family, friends and loved ones and know that they only want your company and attention.  Poor work-life balance causes fatigue and burnout, poor health, lost time with friends and family that you can never get back (missed milestones and occasions such as recitals and ball games).  There are many ways to start making changes but the first is to recognize this is something you control and no one else.  You can begin to set limits and manage time more efficiently.  Learn to say no; leave work at work.  I am a proud husband and father while I also currently balance a full time position in a middle school, hold a position as a president and chairman of a nonprofit organization, operate a private practice and own my own business, maintaining consulting contracts with a number of small businesses.  Despite all that, most weekends are family time and every evening, all work is tucked away from 5pm-9pm.  It hasn’t led me to fail, in fact, it has helped me to be more successful.  I have learned to be more efficient with my time.  I must also be very organized so I can leave off and pick up in the same spot, seamlessly.  The best part is, when I do take that break, I feel refreshed when I get back to it and not burnt out.  I am in control, and only when I let the boundaries blur does it begin to get turbulent. 

2. Mindfulness- You create your own stress, anxiety, happiness and joy.  You create your own reality.  You may try to explain that terrible things happen beyond your control and sometimes terrible things happen to good people and any other excuse for not taking control of your mind.  But I will call you on it.  You have a choice every day.  You can let your feelings create your thinking, or you can let your thinking control your feelings.  Every time something happens in life, you make a snap decision immediately; a judgement of that situation.  This is influenced by our current mood, past experiences, and many other things.  It is time to question how and why you judge the things that are happening and ask yourself if this judgement is helping you to feel good or bad.  Sure, bad and not so fun things happen, but how is your thinking framing it?  If you get a flat tire in the rain and are stuck on the side of the road with no umbrella, as each thing continues to go wrong, do you have the mental capacity to be grateful for the warm weather despite the cool rain?  Can you be grateful that your car has a suitable spare and jack?  Do you appreciate that you didn’t crash with a high speed blowout?  Or maybe you have to wait 3 hours for AAA… for your free tow.  Perspective is the operative term here.  Choose yours wisely.  And pay attention to what you choose.  Does it feel good?  Are you enjoying it?  Why did you choose to feel that way?  Do not be helpless to your feelings.  It is up to you.  There is no wizard behind the curtain.  Wherever you go, there you are.

3. Your relationship- I am going to only mention here that neither you nor your significant other is right 100% of the time.  But I will say that during the typical fight between partners, usually, you’re both right.  The biggest problem in healthy, mutually respectful relationships is that despite that fact, we still fight!  And that is ok, because we need to fight.  It isn’t if, but HOW we fight that matters.  As men, we usually do a terrible job listening and that makes fights much worse for no reason.  Could you reiterate every single word of an argument, yet you have been told somehow, you weren’t listening?  What if you were never taught how to listen the right way and you actually AREN’T listening?  What if your partner is right?  Do you know the four components of true listening?  The four components are listening with your eyes, ears, heart, and mind.  Are you looking at your partner when they speak?  Are you listing to the words that they are saying?  Are you trying to feel what it is they are feeling; tuning in emotionally to their side of things?  And are you thinking about what they are saying, not thinking about excuses or challenges to their side of things?  Is your brain fully engaged in only what they are saying and can you accept all of that as their experience and perspective?  No?   Give it a try.  And when they are done speaking, summarize, rephrase.  Don’t argue.  Just accept how they feel and ask questions to better understand.  I bet you just improved your relationship more than you imagined.  And just maybe they will reciprocate.  And then the love has a clear path to lead the way.  

4. Your role as a father- This is for the dad’s out there.  Present and future.  Listen up.  This is a short and sweet tip.  Be a good dad.  The end.  This is different to many people, but the fact is that good fathers drop everything for their family and kids.  Good fathers eat dinner at the table with their kids.  Good fathers don’t do drugs and get drunk around their kids.  And good fathers get help if they need it and don’t make excuses.  Good fathers put their family first.  Good fathers try every day, because they know it is not about doing one single thing, but the sum of all the efforts they put in.  Good fathers know that they make mistakes, but the best fathers fix them and set only the best examples to their precious children’s watching eyes.  If you aren’t a good dad, now you can be; now you know.  It doesn’t matter how great or bad you had it either, because you are in control now.  You can be any kind of parent you decide to be.  Now is the time to not be lazy.  You only get one shot- be the change you wish to see.


If any of these things are difficult for you, it is ok.  You aren’t ever alone.  Don’t be afraid to speak out about these with your friends or family.  You will be surprised at how many other people can relate and are working on the same things.  If this doesn’t help you or is not an option, you can always seek professional help.  This is what we do for a living after all and a little one-on-one time reflecting on life and living can have a huge impact on jumpstarting your self-improvement.  Life is not always fair and life is not always easy.  You need to do whatever you can to keep that mental edge.

 Written by Justin S. Linefsky, LCSW                                                                                           Owner, Mind Mechanix, Consulting Firm

Wake Up Guys!!!

Why is it that most men will shy away from help, but are the first ones to try and fix the problem? Is it something we are taught or is this something that has been in our genes forever? Most men have this vision or this perception of what a man should be. This is usually a man who is strong and powerful, one who never appears to be sick, depressed, or anxious. But have we really ever stopped to think about how this idea of what a man should be can put pressure on men and lead to undue stress? Why is it so wrong for us to open up and express how we feel, even if it makes us vulnerable?


While fulfilling this ideal may seem rewarding, it comes with a price if we are not careful to find some sort of balance. Lets look at some things that can be effected by the quiet crisis of men and the stigma of mental health. 

  1. Responsibility is key to any type of success, whether it's in business, home, or life in general. When we push towards this ideal that has been placed in front of us we lose touch with those things that can matter most. I am talking about family, friends, and work. If we just push our feelings and emotions to the side and tell ourselves, 'this makes me weak', we are just trying to sweep real issues under the rug; which could be a sign of something more severe. Anything from failing relationships to depression can lead to more drastic consequences. On average, about 87 men commit suicide everyday. If we can just take responsibility for our feelings and emotions as soon as they occur this could be a big step in decreasing this number down.
  2. Ego can appear to drive the most successful and determined of men. This has also been the driver to many failures as well. When it comes to mental health, men struggle with a huge battle against their own ego. This can be especially harmful because of the impact it has on not only the individual, but those around them. As a result of having a huge ego, amazing opportunities could be missed as well as pushing others. One's ego can get in the way at any age. For example, most don't realize that some of the highest rates of depression occur in men between the ages of 40 and 55.
  3. Reality is something we all would like to believe we have a firm grasp on, but how do know when do? I guess there is no real definitive answer, but a step towards this answer is having as much knowledge and facts to back up our claims. While most men shy away from mental health and related issues, we don't realize how much we are really missing out on as a society. There are a lot of good sources to help us as men better understand and feel more comfortable opening up. Some quick starts might be looking at how research has shown that men are known to see positive effects when talking in groups, or how men are less likely to report pain to females, and are more likely to fear a bias from a female therapist. For a more individualistic perspective, check out this article about Brandon Marshall, widereceiver for the New York Jets. In this article, he talks about the stigma and some of his own battles with mental health. 

So, it goes without saying that we, as men, do struggle but this does not mean we are weak or useless. Rather this is a sign that we are human and need to work to be better in our mental health as much as we work to be better in all other aspects of our lives that matter to us. Because if we are not healthy - physically and mentally - enough to take care of our selves how will we ever be strong enough to take care of those that mean the most to us? 

John Vander Ven, LPCMH