Anti-Bullying Message

Mike Neuts at St. Anne Catholic Elementary SchoolIt is impossible to listen to the story of Myles Neuts as told by his father and not be changed by it.Mike has told his story to thousands of students, teachers and parents who have benefited from learning the truth about the Myles Neuts tragedy.

Mike has become an advocate for youth, speaking out against bullying with a frightening truth that every parent, child and care-giver should hear.His son was bullied one time, and it cost him his life.Mike is on a mission to see this doesn’t happen again. His message is clear: bullying, whatever the situation, is wrong.People get hurt.People die.It must stop, and it’s up to everyone in the community to stop it.

Bullies seek power and control for a variety of reasons, like popularity, or as a penalty for being different.Sometimes it’s a case of the haves versus the have-nots. Incidents of girls bullying other girls are becoming more commonplace through acts of harassment or seclusion.The old adage, “sticks and stones will break your bones but words can never hurt you,” is one Mike would like to see left in the past.The internet, text messaging and cellular phones are the new technology of the bully. Clearly, emotional bullying is just as powerful as physical forms of abuse.

Citing the American statistics that 20,000 children per day and 100,000 children per week in the United States (one child every 10 seconds in Canada) miss school out of fear, Mike is passionate that students realize their inherent value as individuals, so that they have a belief in themselves to come forward and seek help.He acknowledges that victims of bullies are told not to tell, threatened with harm or public humiliation, and that fear prevents them from seeking help.“Victims have to speak out.You have to tell someone, whoever you trust, and get help where you can find it.”For parents, that means getting our children to talk to us, and paying attention to the signs that things aren’t okay at school.Children must be safe to tell the truth, and be heard.

Bystanders too must take an active role in combating a potentially life-threatening issue. Neuts reminds us that if we witness bullying and do nothing to stop it, we’re guilty of allowing it to happen.In the case of Myles Neuts, his father has learned that the bullies actually invited other kids to come in to the locker room and have a laugh at the kid struggling on the coat hook.It was one of these witnesses that finally alerted the school staff.It was too late. While the perpetrators in this case had no idea they would kill Myles with their actions, they did take pleasure in his pain. Giving a bully an audience just gives them more thrill, more power.Mike reminds us, “Bystanders reinforce the victim’s humiliation.”

neuts1 001What Mike wants kids to understand, more than anything else, is that they matter.Not as part of a group, or by fitting in – just by being themselves.Sometimes Mike will stand, arms outstretched, holding two photos of Myles taken just thirty minutes before this tragedy occurred, and reminds the students that his son was popular, he loved school, he’d never really been bullied before, and he was a great kid. He sends those photos around, so that every person in the room would attach Myles’s innocent face to his words.The impact is felt by everyone.Those students see themselves in Myles’s face.He could have been any one of them.“You are all unique. The beauty of the world is that it is exciting.Why in the world would you pick on someone for being different?”School, he reminds them is about fun, about playing with friends and getting an education.It’s a place where it should be safe to just be a kid.“Kids come to school to learn, to play, to have fun; not to die.”

Frustrated by the media’s focus on negative youth images, he encourages a positive outlook.“We need to acknowledge young people, to recognize them as incredible people.We always hear what children do bad, what they do wrong. We need to hear what they do right.”

As parents, Mike and Brenda Neuts have buried a child, have raised a second son, and have turned a tragedy into a message of hope that will save the lives of other children because thier story will haunt anyone who hears it, with a truth that audiences cannot ignore or deny.

When asked how he feels about the alleged bullies now, Mike Neuts admits that he is angry and has not found the resolve of forgiveness. He doubts he ever will, while his son’s tormenters walk freely in his community.Yet he has turned his anger away from vengeance and poured it into public speaking.His humanity is genuine, his emotions are raw, and his optimism is boundless.“I have an angel on my shoulder that helps me,” he explains. “We can’t lose faith in everything or we become a recluse. We can’t always focus on the negative.”

Once a student stood up and asked Mike what motivated him to speak out on such a difficult issue, and his reply was heartfelt. “I believe in young people, in their future as our greatest resource.I do this to stop bullying.And I do it to teach kids to be in touch with their feelings and think about their actions.”

After speaking to a school, it is common for students to flock to Mike, eager to tell their own personal tales.He listens intently to each child.He embraces some and comforts others. His words encourage them to seek help, believe in themselves, and never let anyone make them feel unworthy.Through each of them, Myles’s legacy will live on.

An adaptation of an article written by Kelly Waterhouse