Dear Annie: I go to school and often see some of my classmates who are considered “popular” teasing my classmates and friends. The victims always look very uncomfortable, and whenever the teasers are told to stop, they give the excuse, “I’m just joking. Calm down.” In my opinion, it’s not a joke unless the person receiving the joke is laughing, as well. I try to tell them to stop whenever I can but only find myself being able to speak if one of my friends is the one being teased. I’m too timid to say anything if someone I don’t know is on the receiving end of these “jokes” and if the classmate teasing is one of the meaner people in my grade. What can I do in order for this to stop? It’s hard watching people be uncomfortable and being too scared to do anything. Thanks for your help.

— Shy

Dear Shy: You’re right; these kids aren’t kidding. They’re bullying and hiding behind the guise of joking, which makes them cruel and cowardly all at once.

I encourage you to jump in to say something the next time you see them picking on a classmate. I know it’s not easy to stand up to mean popular kids — but you, my friend, are braver than you realize. You’ve already stood up to these jokers on behalf of your friends, which is more than many of us ever manage to do. And I bet that after you stand up for another classmate once, you’ll feel so good that it will be even easier to do it the next time. The bullies may try to retaliate against you at first, but stay strong. They’re weak, and they’ll eventually back down. And the classmates you defend? Rest assured that even if they don’t manage to voice their gratitude, they’ll remember you for a very long time.

You’ve got a heart of gold and a spine of steel, so kudos, kiddo. That’s the stuff of greatness.

Dear Annie: I read the letter from “Mind Your Manners, Please,” a woman who was incensed over a screaming child in public.

I offer this as a retort.

My wife and I have a child who is 3 years old and in the autism spectrum. He often has issues in certain situations that would be beyond any parent’s control. There are times when there is no amount of consoling, bribing, holding or soft talking that can quiet my child in public.

Does this mean I shouldn’t be allowed to take him school shopping? Maybe I should just not let my young son ever leave the house.

Maybe “Mind Your Manners, Please” should have some sympathy and understanding. Chances are the child she wrote about suffers from some mental challenges.

A screaming child harms no one. Judgmental adults, on the other hand, do, and they should be ashamed. That includes those mothers you surveyed who have no understanding of what it’s like to have a child on the spectrum.

Know the situation entirely before you judge others.

— RW

Dear RW: The mothers I surveyed defended the parents whose child was screaming in the supermarket, so there may be more empathetic people out there than you think. But I want to print your letter, as it offers a valuable perspective. When we feel ourselves rushing to judgment, we should really apply the brakes. Thanks for writing.

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