In a recent article in The New York Times, writer Julie Turkewitz reported on young kids being treated to day-spa and luxury services traditionally geared toward adults.

The spa industry has begun to target children in a big way, going way beyond mother-daughter manicures. Adult spas are adding separate menus of services for girls, usually ages 4 to 14. In most major cities, there are now dedicated day spas for children, offering a range of massages, facials and other treatments for girls (and sometimes boys) too young to have had their first pimple.

Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn said the push to a younger audience is a conscious play to expand a business base. "It's a brilliant demonstration of capitalism's relentless push for new markets. There are roughly 20,000 spas in the US. Now about 5,000 of them offer spa treatments to children," Koehn said on Boston Public Radio.

"You can see, as Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, 'mother nature finds a way.' Capitalism finds a way" too, Koehn said.

Koehn said marketing beauty services to children may send the wrong message. "It's one thing for me to do that as an adult," Koehn said. "It's another thing for a seven-year-old or an eight-year-old."

Boston Public Radio guest cohost Emily Rooney found other kid-centric entertainment equally onerous. "I start thinking back when my kid was that age, and there were different trends going on, that horrendous Chuck E. Cheese," Rooney said. "This to me at least feels healthier."

You go to these stores, you can't find a dress with sleeves. It's the Kardashian-ization of our girls. --Margery Eagan

Past things like manicures and facials, Boston Public Radio cohost Margery Eagan was disturbed by "sexy" items marketed to girls in the interest of beauty. "You go to these stores, you [can't] find a dress with sleeves," Eagan said. "This is part of this 'sexing up.' It's the Kardashian-ization" of our girls.

Koehn said media outlets were complicit in marketing sexiness to young girls. "The channels for these signals are now bigger, broader, and much more omnipresent." She said the underlying message was, "You better be pretty, you better be sexual, you better not look like anything out of the ordinary."

Eagan worried about the impact on young women when so many advertisers correlate beauty with professional success. "You see very few successful women, anywhere, who are not good looking." She said comments like those by radio host Rush Limbaugh in 2007 — about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — made the problem worse. "Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?"

Koehn agreed those expectations were harmful. "It takes away [children's] ballast of, 'Here's who I really am.'" But, she said, fending off marketers and harmful media messages started with a "grain of common sense" — teaching kids to ignore advertisers, and take pride in themselves.

>> To hear the entire interview with Nancy Koehn, click the audio link above. Nancy Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School, and the author of Ernest Shackleton: Exploring Leadership. Koehn joins BPR every Tuesday.