Zoombombing – What Parents (and Educators) Need to Know

Do you know what Zoom-bombing is? No one did – until a few weeks ago. Thanks to COVID-19, millions of students are home connecting with their teachers and classmates virtually through webinar apps like Zoom, and now exposed to an all new form of child abuse.

Maybe you have read a story or maybe it has happened to someone you know. Fifteen middle school students and their teacher were together in a Zoom webinar when an unknown person joined their webinar and shared their desktop that contained pornographic images. The intruder also entered vulgar text messages in a chat window for the entire class to see. The stunned and horrified teacher immediately shut down the Zoom call. The principal then had the unenviable task of calling every family affected by the Zoom-bomber. 

Make Zoom Safe

Zoom has recently updated their software and published a help doc to keep uninvited guests out of your zoom event. If you are an educator hosting a Zoom classroom, you must read Zoom’s help doc to protect you and your students.

A Parenting Moment

The Zoom-bombing incident is an opportunity to talk about personal safety, in real-life and online, with your child. My biggest piece of advice I can give a parent when it comes to having these kinds of conversations with their child, whether it is about drugs, alcohol, vaping, or sexual abuse: Be a good listener. Ask a lot of open-ended questions. For example, you could say, “I heard about [issue], what do you think about it?” The next part is the hardest, don’t be judgemental. You say, “That’s interesting. Why do you think that?” Wait for their answer and follow up with your point-of-view, “Have you thought of/about [the facts]?”

Talking About Online Safety

Having conversations about online safety isn’t easy. 80% of parents have never discussed Internet safety with their children. Talking to thousands of parents every year, I have learned parents are not having this vital talk with their child because they do not know what to say. The number one safety factor in any child’s life is a parent that will speak to them about necessary and sometimes tricky topics like Internet safety, bullying, drug use, vaping, etc. The Mobile Device and Internet Contract is a parent’s script to opening a meaningful conversation about cyber safety with their child. Read each point to them, and then ask them to share their thoughts about it. Ask open-ended questions like, “Why do you think this is a good idea,” or “what could happen if you let a stranger into your Instagram account?” 

My book, Parenting in the Digital World, will provide you with step-by-step instructions on setting parental and privacy controls on all of your child’s devices. This book will also give a full understanding of how to create a safe online environment for your family, including issues like online predators, pornography, viruses and malware, bullying, and more.

Talking About Personal Safety and Sexual Abuse

I’m a fan of The Hot Chocolate Talk. It is a campaign designed by the Committee for Children to help families start the conversation about child sexual abuse. The organization offers free downloadable guides that take the guesswork and possibly some of the awkwardness out of difficult conversations for parents. You are given precise words to use, broken down by age group, and a strategy for delivering them in a comfortable setting and alongside a cozy treat.

Children should have a clear understanding of what behaviors are inappropriate, how to say “no” to those behaviors, and then how to report them. Starting at a young age, we should be talking to our children about inappropriate touching. Give them the words to say “no,” reinforced with roleplaying situations, and then identifying safe adults in their lives that they can go to and ask for help. As they get older and begin dating, this conversation should evolve to sexual assault and dating violence. 

While these conversations might be uncomfortable at first, the goal is to make them less so by addressing them early and continually reinforcing the message. With your children, more online than ever, now is the time to make having these safety conversations a priority.

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About the Author

Clayton Cranford
Clayton Cranford is a retired Sergeant from Orange County Sheriff's Department in California and owner of Total Safety Solutions LLC. Clayton is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement educators on social media, child safety, and behavioral threat assessments. Clayton is the author of the definitive book on cyber safety for families, “Parenting in the Digital World.” Clayton has more than 20 years of teaching experience and was awarded the 2015 National Bullying Prevention Award from the School Safety Advocacy Council, and the 2015 American Legion Medal of Merit. Clayton was a member of the County's Behavioral Threat Assessment Team, Crisis Negotiation Team, School Resource Officer program, and Juvenile Bureau.