DEAR JANE: My son’s teacher claims that he’s a BULLY – but I think the other kids just need to toughen up

Dear Jane,

Last week I got hauled into my son’s school by his teacher – who informed me that my 12-year-old has been ‘bullying’ the other children and that the situation had become so severe that she felt she needed to step in and take action.

I was absolutely flabbergasted. My son is a wonderful young man and my husband and I are both incredibly proud of who he is growing up to be. He’s independent, he’s intelligent, and he’s strong willed, all of which we believe are great qualities in a person.

However, his teacher apparently thinks otherwise. She said that he has been ‘bossing around’ other children to the point where they’ve ended up in tears. That he’s gotten into arguments with his peers during class discussions that have – again – left several of them in tears. According to her, he has trouble ‘listening to others’.

I asked her whether he said anything mean or rude, and she conceded that he hadn’t, but said that he is sometimes too ‘forceful’ in the way that he expresses his opinions.

Dear Jane, my 12-year-old son’s teacher has accused him of bullying his classmates – but I think he’s just more independent and mature than they are 

I’m really sorry to sound insensitive here, but it sounds a lot more like the other kids in his class need to toughen up and learn what it means to have a proper conversation? 

We don’t live in a world where everyone is going to accept and respect what you have to say. And sometimes you’re going to come up against people who are stronger willed and more dominant in a group setting. That’s just the pecking order of life.

It sounds to me like my son is being asked to stunt his own personal growth in order to make other kids feel better? And that’s not something I will stand for.

After my meeting with his teacher, I discussed everything with my husband we are both in agreement that we cannot simply bow to the teacher’s wild accusations – but I would love your advice on how you think we should handle this with the school? 

International best-selling author Jane Green offers sage advice on readers' most burning issues in her Dear Jane agony aunt column

International best-selling author Jane Green offers sage advice on readers’ most burning issues in her Dear Jane agony aunt column

I don’t want to make a mountain out of a mole hill here, but it feels to me like the other kids in my son’s class need to be told what it’s like in the real world before they go making wild accusations about his behavior.


Motherly Instinct

Dear Motherly Instinct,

As a mother of six children, four of whom are boys, I applaud you for raising a son who is independent and intelligent – an independent child, certainly, is an essential part of your job, which is to raise a child with the skillset to go into the world as a good adult.

Having a strong will is not inherently wrong, and you are clearly relieved to hear he has not been unkind or rude. 

But, being overbearing, forcing your opinions on others, dominating conversations, is not, as your son’s teacher is attempting to communicate, a recipe for success. In fact, as his classmates are discovering, those kinds of character traits can alienate others, and ultimately end up with your son getting less of what he wants, rather than more.

You don’t have to dull a strong will, in fact, I’m not sure that’s even possible, but what is possible is to make your son aware of the impact his behavior has on others. 

Whatever our natural impulses may be, we can all learn to temper them, to hold back and give others the space to talk, to respect all around us, without dulling or muting what we have to say.

There is much said these days about kindness being the most important trait we can teach our children. I would argue that equal to that, is being aware of the impact our behavior has on those around us. 

Your son is upsetting his peers, which suggests to me he may well grow up to be a young man who upsets his colleagues, and friends. However talented your son may be, steamrolling over everyone to get his way may bring him success, but at what price?

Ensuring that everyone around us is treated with respect and kindness, is not stunting personal growth; in fact, it’s the opposite: it’s ensuring that your son, with his intelligence and independence, adds a degree of emotional intelligence and awareness that can enhance his life, rather than complicate it.

Dear Jane,

My husband of 56 years died not too long ago, and shortly after he passed, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. To say it’s been a tough few months would be an understatement. 

However this horrible time has been made even worse by the fact that my daughters have essentially been ignoring me ever since their father died. I try to keep in touch with them once a week via text, but they only ever answer with one line responses. They rarely speak to me, email me, or even text me simply to check in.

I certainly don’t need my children to give up their lives to take care of me, but I thought that they would at least ask how I’m doing, or offer to help? I feel so hurt and ignored by them – especially because they didn’t act this way when their dad was alive.

Dear Jane’s Sunday Service 

They say blood is thicker than water, but when our families are toxic, or cause us little other than pain, it may be time to walk away and create our own family of choice. 

Pour your love and attention into the friends who show up, who do not judge, who love you for who you are, and bask in the beauty that a logical family can bring.

I haven’t said anything because I know they’re busy – they always spend their holidays with their in-laws and they have their own lives – but now that I am alone, it would be nice for them to at least stop by and see me every now and then. 

But when I ask for them to come over, even on Christmas, they tell me I’m needy.

I don’t know what to do – I’m so lonely and hurt, but I don’t know how to tell them this without them getting defensive and attacking me?


Abandonment Issues

Dear Abandonment Issues,

I am so, so sorry for all of the terrible things you are going through. It is unimaginable that you should lose your husband, deal with your own illness, and feel that you have lost your daughters on top of all that.

The hardest thing about answering letters like this is how little we know. I have no idea if something happened, or what their story about you may be, but it seems that their behavior towards you is unlikely to change. 

Each time you try, you are going to get more hurt, and I am asking you to stop, as hard as that may be.

As you have tragically discovered, life is short, and you owe it to yourself to focus on the things that bring you joy, rather than pain. At this point, the best advice I can give to you is to accept that your daughters cannot give you what you need, and try and let go of any expectations from them.

But, you urgently need support. Nobody understands your situation, your fears, and your loneliness better than other people who are living with terminal cancer. 

Studies show that cancer support groups reduce loneliness, enhance self-esteem, reduce depression and decrease anxiety. Additionally, they often help with relationships with family and friends. 

Ask your doctor, nurse, or hospital social worker about support groups locally, and visit the American Association for Cancer Research – – for a full list of resources. The American Cancer Society runs thousands of cancer support groups nationwide.

I am sending you much love, and strength, and I am holding you in my prayers.