Dear Carolyn: My brother-in-law is not someone I consider a good role model for my son. His idea of appropriate behavior with his nephew at a holiday dinner is arm-wrestling him at the dinner table and then teaching him about gambling while watching football. Should I ask my sister to tell her husband to steer clear of my son, or let it go for one time a year?

— Relative

Relative: Well, the pandemic answered this for 2020. But there’s no avoiding bad role models entirely, and whatever you teach your son is going to have to bear up under all kinds of external and societal pressure, only a sliver of which you can anticipate and preempt.

When you know you have some say, it can be a tough decision. Is it protecting your kids as any responsible parent would, or is it pearl-clutching and bubble-wrapping at your kid’s own expense?

I don’t think there’s a universal answer, in part because quickie descriptions often don’t offer enough information for risk-assessment. “The Gift of Fear” and “Protecting the Gift” (de Becker) can help you calibrate your judgment, and they’re both accessible in what they suggest.

In the meantime, you can do your own basic risk test: Are once-a-year arm-wrestlings at the table — which you can see and say no to right away, if it’s important to you — and a few gambling tips enough to send your son’s life spinning off course? Is preventing these things worth the no doubt highly insulting conversation with your sister? Is an occasional conversation with your kid about nutty Uncle Bookie enough to maintain proper perspective?

If there’s more to this, and/or your brother-in-law triggers your gut-level warning system, then the answer still isn’t to talk to your sister — it’s to make sure your son is never unsupervised with any person who sets off any danger bells.

Dear Carolyn: My 30-year-old niece completely ruined Thanksgiving by saying after grace, "and may you all be forgiven for eating turkey flesh." She also brought up a cousin's painful breakup in front of everyone and spilled other family secrets. I left early with a migraine.

I would like to host a Christmas dinner [N.B.: this is from 2019], but I don't want her ruining my dinner, and I don't trust her to keep quiet. What should I do? She also skipped the vegan options and ate the vegetarian food my family brought.

— Hosting Provocative Vegan

Hosting Provocative Vegan: Why are you giving her so much power?

I won’t endorse “spill[ing] family secrets,” but mentioning a breakup could be showing concern as much as anything, and the turkey-flesh comment sounds unintentionally laugh-out-loud funny to me. And I’m turkicidal.

But for the sake of argument, I’ll agree the comment was offensive. Even then, we all still hold the power to make our “ruin everything” threshold unreachable by mere provocative vegan sass.

If it’s a steady stream of mean-spiritedness, then call each instance out calmly, in the tone family of, “Why would you say that?”

Short version, focus on chipping “completely ruined” down to “made .?.?. interesting,” by not taking her bait.

The vegan/vegetarian scorekeeping is self-defeating. Pettiness never solved anyone.

(If anybody needs me, I’ll be Zoom-touring with my new band, Provocative Vegan.)

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