I talk a lot about ending relationship abuse–all forms: dating violence, domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault. It sounds like an easy task doesn’t it? I’ve even had people say, “Who could possibly be in favor of those things?” Good point.

Sometimes, the hard part is recognizing the slippery slope of behaviors that lead to abuse. When does teasing become bullying? When does grumpiness after a hard day become a pattern of verbal abuse that leaves a partner continually walking on eggshells to avoid an outburst? When does phoning a dating partner often to check in become controlling and harassing?  When we see the news headline or the Lifetime movie, the abuses are always clear. But in our day to day life, it’s easy to totally miss behaviors which by themselves don’t seem outrageous, but when they become a pattern can be devastating.

Last night my family was watching America’s Funniest Videos. Along with the cute pet antics and adorable baby videos there are always: plenty of collisions involving vehicles from tricycles to monster trucks, gravity-inspired falls, crotch mishaps… and pranks.  Last night’s show had one segment with an older brother wearing a frightening mask and to scare his younger sibling in the shower…while videotaping the whole incident.  The younger boy was clearly upset by his brother’s intrusion… and kept saying so as the camera rolled.  I have two sons so  I’ve heard my share of brothers annoying each other. Grown up now they’re great friends, but as we sat on the couch last night I thought I saw the younger one shake his head remembering.

As I watched the show I, too, was shaking my head– not only was brotherly bullying seen as funny, but funny enough to send in and share the moment with the whole country on prime time TV. Wasn’t there any adult somewhere along the line to say, “That’s enough” before that scene played itself out in my living room? Well I guess I was wrong, because that video was selected as the grand prize winner … worth a $30,000 prize. Wow that’s a big reward for a bullying behavior. Talking to the younger sib, Tom Bergeron said, “You didn’t seem scared… just really POed.” Yeah… so why did we reinforce this as funny by selecting it as the big winner?

Schools tell us bullying is a huge problem. We try to teach kids to be an ally and stand up for others. Yet a family-friendly TV show just ‘endorsed’ bullying behaviors, accompanied by the laughter of the audience and a big check.  Is it any wonder our kids get confused?