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damage@globeandmail.com

THE QUESTION

I recently got a call from the vice-principal at my son's school. Another mother had complained that my son had been mean to hers. I was surprised because we have a school carpool with this family and this boy had just spent a perfectly happy overnight at our house. My son and his friends are preteens and mutual name-calling and teasing often happens. They usually sort things out on their own.

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However, now he distrusts his friend, whom he insists did not seem that upset at the time. When I discussed the incident with the other mother, I clearly acknowledged that my child was being a bully, but then she made some veiled comments about her superior parenting skills. Now I'm feeling resentful of her self-righteous attitude and think she should have called me first before complaining to the school. Is there a graceful way I can deal with this situation?

THE ANSWER

Madam: It is my honour and pleasure to attempt to assist you.

However, it's hard to tell from your letter what exactly your son did to qualify as a "bully."

Damage Control does not condone the use of physical force or intimidation, except in extreme circumstances.

But it doesn't sound like your son did any pushing and shoving. Sounds like all he did was insult his friend verbally.

In which case, I have to say (you said these kids are preteens, aka "tweenagers," right?): Welcome to the world of men, son.

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I have whole relationships with other men in which we communicate with nothing but insults:

"You're getting so fat. Your head's the size of a basketball, you know that."

"Is it my imagination or is your bald spot bigger since I last saw you?"

It doesn't mean we don't like each other. We do. We love each other. Women find the insults difficult to fathom, and to tell you the truth, I don't understand them much myself. Maybe it's some hunter-gatherer or soldier thing, designed to toughen each other up for the hunt, or for battle?

But it is what it is, and probably the sooner your son's friend gets used to this fact, the better.

And, yes, insofar as possible, men, and tweens, should attempt to solve their beefs betwixt and be-"tween" themselves.

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I'm not surprised your son doesn't trust this kid any more. The moment Little Lord Fauntleroy ran with his frilly Peter Pan collar flapping all the way to the hem of his mother's skirt, crying "Wah wah wah, I feel so insulted by my friend's mean comments," he committed a Class 1 violation of the Dude Code.

(Of course, if all the other kids were systematically targeting this boy with verbal abuse, Lord of the Flies style, then I'd be giving you different advice. But that doesn't seem to be the case here.)

I have in my library a book called The Way of the Superior Man. I would say, for your son, the way of the superior tween is, first, to go eyeball to eyeball with his friend and say something to the effect of: "I can't believe you ratted me out like that. Next time come to me like a man, and if I've offended you in some way, I'll apologize like a man. We're tweenagers, now. It's time we set aside childish things, like running and tattling and clutching mommy's apron strings."

As for your role in the kerfuffle, I agree with you, the other mother should have come to you first, not gone off tattling to the vice-principal.

But hey, the apple obviously doesn't fall far from the tree. Where do you think your son's friend got the idea tattling was an excellent way to solve his problems?

This mother-son duo sounds like a prize pair of whiners. No doubt they feel right at home in the "culture of complaint" in which we currently live.

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They obviously also don't mind a bit of drama, either, and were able to whip up quite a cappuccino-style froth of it, out of what appears in essence to have been a non-incident.

Which is why I have to say: The way of the superior mother, here, mommy dearest, is not to engage.

I remember in the days when I was a stay-at-home dad, any time anyone pushed the "Bad Dad" button, my corpuscles would begin to simmer.

These days, though, I think: Anyone who would go there has to be a little whacked, anyway.

Or as my mother always says: "Consider the source."

Don't sink to her level. Any confrontation will only lead to further drama, and who needs it?

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Don't even make a frosty crack or shoot her a nasty look.

Rise above it all, mamacita. At any further evidence of her boorish/underhanded behaviour, just smile quietly to yourself, shake your head and think: "Poor woman, she's obviously got some issues."

Lead by example.

David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.

I've made a huge mistake

Have you created any damage that needs controlling? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com, and include your hometown and a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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