Spa Days for Children?
When I read yesterday’s article, “After a Spa Day, Looking Years Younger (O.K., They’re Only 7)” in The New York Times, at first I thought it was a satire. Diaper-clad toddlers treated to manicures and limo rides? A spa geared for children that calls itself “Seriously Spoiled?” But alas, this article illuminated many ways in which this generation’s adoring, well-meaning parents, is not doing their offspring any favors. In fact, for a myriad of reasons, spa treatments for tots are a truly bad idea. Let me discuss but a few.
1. Child-oriented spas are yet another harmful push toward precocity. Children are already being rushed to grow up before they’re developmentally and emotionally ready. Plenty of articles have addressed the fashion industry’s emphasis on dressing kids like small (and often sexy) adults. Advertisers in particular are encouraing girls to wear revealing clothing, heels, and make-up, robbing them of the innocence and lack of self-consciousness of childhood. Spa “treatments” tell little girls that their skin and bodies need fixing, way before they need be concerned about the effects of aging.
2. There are better coping strategies for stress. Although spas tout their services as ways to teach kids to deal with the pressures of life, I would argue that there are an abundance of more active, effective, and empowring—not to mention, less costly—skills. What about, say, physical activity? Besides running around outside, girls and boys can dance in their rooms, play games, shoot baskets in the driveway or park, walk their dogs, and so forth. They can do yoga, learn meditation, and talk with friends, which are proven stress-busters for children. How much exercise and interaction with their peers can they enjoy during passive, individual massage treatments?
3. The last thing girls need is earlier focus on their appearance. Although a spa association president was quoted in this article as saying beauty treatments are “…very similar to taking little kids to the dentist,” the differences, I believe, are obvious. Teaching children about personal hygiene is a fundamentalpart of developing healthy habits. Regular check-ups with pediatricians and dentists are part of that regimen. But so are bathing and washing one’s face. There is no need to alert prepubescent girls to the size of their pores or raise their anxiety about potential blemishes.
4. Kids hardly need to feel more “special.” This culture is already facilitating higher levels of narcissism, as indicated by the elimination of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the recently released psychiatric bible, the DSM-5. Apparently, it is no longer possible to distinguish such afflicated inviduals from the normal population. I don’t think second graders benefit from rides in limos or princess treatments, which only fuel this culture’s sense of entitlement and growing desire for fame and stardom (at any cost). Mind you, this is a far cry from girls dressing up as princesses in pretend play, an activity that encourages imagination, empathy, and problem-solving. It would be a shame if parents and kids came to believe that at-home birthday parties, with themes, actvities, games, and cake, don’t allow the birthday child to feel special enough.
5. Loving kids and setting limits aren’t mutually exclusive. This article mentioned that single fathers, “lost in the world of girl-care,” are often clients of child-centered spas. Their struggle to do right by their daughters is admirable. But over-indulging them is not the answer. Besides, in my clinical experience I know that girls most appreciate the time their fathers spend with them, whether they are playing a board game, practicing their pitching in the yard, or helping around the house. One mother of two little girls was quoted as saying, “I don’t want them to feel that my saying ‘no’ means that I don’t love them.” On the contrary, it is love that guides parents to do what’s best for their kids even when it means disappointing them. I just hope this mother realizes this before her daughters enter their teens.