Spas for children? Gag me

Alas, I’ve seen proof that I’m as stodgy and out of touch as my children are convinced I am.

It was revealed when I read a newspaper story glorifying a day spa aimed specifically at teens and catering to girls as young as elementary school age. My immediate reaction was, “Gag me with a spoon.”

I may be the only mother in America who’s appalled by the notion of 10- and 12-year-olds indulging in expensive pedicures and luxuriating in facial makeovers. But someone has to be the kill-joy.

This has nothing to do with class envy or age-related jealousy or the fact that I bite my nails and have nothing to manicure. It has to do with WHAT ON EARTH WE’RE TEACHING OUR KIDS. Do we really believe we’re building a better tomorrow by letting them know it’s OK to drop a wad of cash on mindless pampering because, after all “I’m worth it”? Whatever happened to encouraging creative play instead of shoving youngsters straight into adult excesses?

Believe it or not, kids even in their pre-teen and middle school years still have active imaginations. Believe it or not, they still enjoy being kids — and I’m not talking about juvenile behavior at inappropriate times.

Turn off “Lizzie McGuire” and see if your daughter doesn’t paint thumbprint characters, make bead bracelets, teach herself footwork tricks with a leftover party balloon or ride her bike around the neighborhood with a buddy.

Wrestle your son from Backyard Hockey on the computer and see if he doesn’t build Lego planes or re-read Harry Potter, improvise a game of Nerf baseball using a souvenir baseball bat or shoot hoops in the backyard all the while envisioning himself in the final moments of a Final Four contest.

I realize that marketers inundate TV shows with commercials not-so-subtly intended to transform pliable youngsters into gottahaveit consumers.

Now I find out I’m supposed to be ponying up for private spa parties at which DJs spin their tunes and caterers provide munchies while the invitees get their hair and nails spiffed up.

Call me chintzy, but that’s about as likely as our house getting an Xbox with MechAssault. In other words, not in my lifetime.

Yes, I’m hopelessly old-fashioned.

I still think ‘tweeners are supposed to be painting each others’ nails and experimenting with makeup at slumber parties — inexpensive fun that lets them prepare for growing up without having to commit to it.

There’s no question that looking good can boost just about anyone’s spirits. And there’s nothing wrong with celebrating femininity.

Forgive me, though, for seeking more constructive ways to develop self-confidence than getting a pedicure to Britney Spears music videos. Real girls need role models who can teach them about character, compassion and civic responsibility not exploitative ambition and trashy dressing. (Boys, too, need icons who stand for substantive values not trash-talking and narcissism.)

One of the founders of the spa that got me started observed that teen-agers need “another place to go besides the mall and the movies.”

No joke. Should we then encourage overpriced self-absorption?

Why not direct them to volunteer activities? Have they tried playing a sport, either for the competition or just for the fun of it? Is bowling too boring? Ice-skating too icky? Are their imaginations too inert to devise other ideas that aren’t all-about-me?

Maybe it’s futile, even hypocritical, to rant about people spending their hard-earned disposable income on whatever extravagant frivolity strikes their fancy. I confess to spending up to $90 for running shoes to cushion my 40-something feet on long runs. (Luckily, my other vices aren’t as expensive.)

But, surely, promoting superficial vanity among preteens is not the mark of a mature and rational society.

I can’t imagine that I’d be teaching my children a valuable lesson by lavishing them with pricey adult self-indulgences.

If they want decadence, I’ll bake them a batch of Scharffen Berger brownies. But that’ll have to do.

Linda P. Campbell is a columnist and editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her e-mail address is