Helen Martin: Bad kids have to be grounded

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GENERALLY speaking, I like children. I was one once. I had one – now an adult. I have step-grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews whom I adore.

All this does not mean that I think children should be allowed and encouraged to go absolutely everywhere and that their parents have a right to inflict them on everyone else.

It’s actually quite a hard thing to admit when you have wee ones in the family. Makes me sound like Cruella de Ville or the Wicked Stepmother. But deep down, we are all the same. We love our own family’s children, even when they are tired, fractious and naughty. But we have a shorter fuse with other people’s.

We also have some control over our own children, while we have none over the children of strangers.

And that is what makes aeroplane travel so difficult. Most passengers don’t appreciate paying for a journey made hellish by a strange child throwing tantrums and yelling in an enclosed space.

A new survey by Edinburgh online firm Skyscanner into misbehaviour on flights reveals children becoming disruptive and upset when they’ve been told to switch off their electronic entertainment gadgets, with a third of Scottish parents admitting their weans had gone into “meltdown” and simply refused to sit up and still with their seat belt fastened. And it is not unheard of for such children to (along with their parents, of course) be thrown off the plane – mercifully, before it takes off.

Around 20 per cent of parents said their child was frightened by the security process long before they even reached the Tarmac, and 15 per cent said the problems started when parent and child couldn’t sit together.

I’m sorry, but there is one answer to all of this. Don’t take your children on a plane – at least until you can be pretty certain they are not going to disturb everyone else or even delay the flight. My sympathy lies with the other passengers, not with the parent who, having utterly failed to control their offspring, or prepare them for the rigours of air travel, adopts a “poor, frazzled me” expression and seems to think other people should empathise.

Some parents in the survey even complained about the lack of baby changing facilities and long queues!

This is a cramped 737 flying hundreds of already uncomfortable people at over 30,000 feet. It’s not a McDonald’s with wings.

Business or relocation apart, I cannot understand why anyone in their right mind would even contemplate flying on a holiday abroad with an infant when they could stay-cation and travel by car or train, especially as little ears are so sensitive to changes in air pressure and it causes real pain.

But certainly an older child, who refuses to behave and strap in, just isn’t old enough to fly. It’s not up to the airline staff to change security procedures, or negotiate with children who won’t give up or switch off their electronic games.

It’s up to parents to prepare them to do as they are told, take the damn gadget off them, and to explain to them that, especially on a budget flight, there is every chance they’ll have to sit separately.

Children are to be loved, cherished and looked after but not over-indulged. The world, especially that of the childless and the empty-nesters, does not revolve around them. Fine dining restaurants and aeroplanes are places where they are conditionally welcomed by other patrons, depending on their behaviour.

They don’t come with a licence to “be themselves”, do as they like, irritate, deafen or disrupt anyone . . . except their own family.

Doggone disgrace

YET another report has emerged of the elderly and those with dementia being poorly cared for, this time in Glasgow Royal Infirmary. This is an issue in many hospitals across the country, leaving most of us baffled as to how the nurses and doctors involved can be so unfeeling, incompetent or plain ignorant about simple human care.

Now, the news that Michael Keggans, the chairman of NHS Dumfries and Galloway, has been fined and banned from keeping animals because he left his elderly dog alone, locked in a cottage with no food or water and a damp duvet to lie on until Scottish SPCA officials found it amidst puddles of urine, hungry and thirsty with its poor old hair matted. More than 27 hours later, he still hadn’t shown up. And he had owned the 12-year-old dog from a pup.

It lends a whole new meaning to the phrase often used by critics of some hospitals and homes for the elderly . . . “I wouldn’t treat a dog like that.”

Apparently, some people would. And they are running health boards. Remarkably, so far, it appears he is still in position.

Perhaps we can’t sift out all the inadequates or those with personality defects who currently hold high office, but it does make you wonder if sufficiently rigorous testing is applied in the recruitment for such responsible public sector jobs. And if someone really can’t look after a dog, should they be running a public health board?