Many hands have been wrung about the plight of overextended kids. In their attempts to become well rounded as individuals and well liked by college admissions officers, youngsters from grammar school to high school barely have time for play, let alone relaxation. But between homework and music lessons, soccer practice and SAT prep, some parents and their kids are scheduling a new set of appointments. These commitments, however, are less likely to be monitored by coaches and instructors than by the aestheticians, masseurs and nutritionists at the growing number of day spas and resorts that cater to young people. "Kids are under such stress now at school with life the way it is," says Marla Rohwer of Highland, N.Y., who recently accompanied her daughter Sarah, 15, to a massage at SPAhhhT, a facility for those 17 and younger at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa outside San Antonio, Texas. "It's a lot of money, but for a special treat for a birthday, or if you're in pain, why not?"
Why not, indeed. Formerly the domain of overstressed or overpampered adults, spas have begun aggressively wooing the under-18 set. Offering specially designed massages, facials, hair braiding and glitter manicures for teens, they are hoping to cash in on adolescents' disposable income and limitless ability to obsess about their appearance. "So much of the media is filled with beautiful girls who have beautiful skin," says Breanna Ellis, 15, who gets a facial at the Belle Visage Day Spa in Studio City, Calif., every six weeks. "Young girls like myself are pressured to be beautiful in society or we don't feel like we belong."
There are currently 33 million teens in this country, and last year, according to Teenage Research Unlimited, they spent a total of almost $20 billion on health-and-beauty products. The nearly 10,000 spas operating in the U.S. are determined not to let all that money be squandered on Clearasil or do-it-yourself hair dye.
Vacation resorts, mindful of the increased desire for family excursions, are also adding services for children and teens. "People used to come alone, but that's really changed since 9/11. Now they want to bring the whole family," says Suzanne Holbrook, executive spa director at the newly opened Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Orlando, Fla., where the spa offers acne-treatment facials, fizzing salt manicures and other teencentric services. "There's been a real boom, and it's being felt throughout the hotel industry." Over Memorial Day weekend, the San Antonio Hyatt Regency opened SPAhhhT after being deluged by requests from parents. Since then, nearly 700 kids have visited, indulging in 25-minute facials at $40 a session and henna tattoos ranging from $4 to $20, depending on the design. As opposed to the Zen-like calm of the resort's adult spa, SPAhhhT's treatment rooms are tricked out in psychedelic colors and play disco music. Hyatt has started similar programs at eight of its other hotels.