This week it was reported that children as young as eight are attending pole dancing classes. I absolutely despise this idea. I also hate kids' pageants, girls' catwalk parties and children's beauticians. This is 2016, a time when we should be at the pinnacle of our understanding of equality. Has feminism and the past sufferings of our sisters not educated us to a point where we are able to recognise how oppressive the sexualisation of women and girls is?
Gender issues aside, this is also an age when our children should be brought up to focus on their intrinsic self-worth and virtues, such as kindness, compassion and intelligence. In contrast to such progression, we see a generation of selfie-obsessed, insecure, judgemental and physically focused young girls.
We are unsurprised when celebrities show off their huge, naked asses in an attempt to 'break the internet' and we celebrate mediocrity in the form of reality 'stars' who have sex on TV. Such sensationalist stories rarely involve a male – when you look at the majority of titillating stories in the press, they have women's faces attached.
So, what message are we sending our little girls when we take them along to pole dancing classes? Many women will, of course, say that they are providing their daughters with important exercise and that, with childhood obesity levels at an all-time high, it demonstrates responsible parenting. Well, gymnastics will keep your daughter fit, cycling will ensure those pounds don't creep on, as will a sensible, healthy diet. In fact, there are a plethora of alternatives.
Don't get me wrong – I recognise that pole dancing can be viewed as a performance art that is incredibly hard work, takes a lot of dedication and gives you amazing muscles. So, if you are over 18 and fancy prancing around a pole, then power to you.
Pole dancing is also inextricably linked with strip clubs and erotica. This cannot be denied, and if you are an adult who wants to have paying customers leering over you and shoving fivers in your stockings, then that is your choice. It's not something that appeals to me, but sex sells – and pole dancing is HUGELY sexual.
Children, however, should have no place in a world that exists primarily to satisfy the sexual desires of men. I completely understand that these girls won't be parading in front of your stereotypical pole dance audience. But the very fact that there is a demographic for this type of observer should put parents off allowing their kids to be anywhere near such an environment.
A little girl opening her legs seductively as she slides down a pole is something that makes my blood run cold. It's a fact that the more access a child has to sexualised images, music or environments, the more likely they will be to engage in early sexual behaviour. Is that what we want for our children, to see their bodies exhibited in such a way and to actively encourage it – albeit unconsciously?
What I want for my kids, and for all kids, is a childhood. I want it for all the children across the world. I want the child brothels in Thailand closed, and the untouchable children in India to be freed from their fate. I know this is something I won't witness in my lifetime, because perverts exist, along with systems that support them and politics that oppress the vulnerable.
In the UK, however, we have no excuses to legitimise the sexualisation of children. We live in an apparently civilised society where we understand the sanctuary and sanctity of childhood... or do we?
It is ironic that the liberal ideology to which we all aspire, with the freedoms for women it promotes, has been warped and twisted into a society that champions behaviour leading to greater inequality and exploitation of the vulnerable – all under the guise of 'progress'
I have witnessed the erosion of childhood, along with the blurring of appropriate boundaries where children are concerned. You can buy lingerie for five-year-olds and take your primary-aged little girl for facials and manicures. You can buy stiletto heels for a seven-year-old and book her birthday at a 'catwalk' party, where mum and dad can clap along as she struts her stuff.
None of this is OK. It's not progressive, it's not equality and it's not childhood.
I am tired of people towing the 'PC' parenting line where we mustn't judge and must all recognise that each mother and father has their own set of values that we must respect; it's bullshit and it's dangerous. It is perhaps ironic that the liberal ideology to which we all aspire, with the freedoms for women it promotes, has been warped and twisted into a society that champions behaviour leading to greater inequality and exploitation of the vulnerable – all under the guise of "progress".
So, I judge you. I judge each and every one of you mothers and fathers who allow their children to plaster their perfect skin with make-up, who book their children in for fake tans and facials, and who refuse to allow their children the chance to experience the fleeting and pure beauty of childhood.
If you take your kids to a pole dancing class then it's time to rethink the impact it is having on them, their peers and society as a whole. It's time to stand up for childhood.
Emma Kenny is a registered Psychological Therapist and has been working in therapy for 18 years, specialising in therapy with young people. She is the CEO of Switch Generation.