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What is… Zoom? A guide for parents and carers

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What is… Zoom? A guide for parents and carers

Zoom is a service that allows you to virtually meet other people online through video or audio-only calls. You can join these calls via laptops, tablets and mobile phones. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that ways of connecting online are more important than ever, with Zoom being an increasingly popular option.

One key thing to note, is that users must be at least 16 years old to have a Zoom account, however those without accounts can still join a Zoom call.

There is a free version of the app, but paid alternatives are also available. The free version allows you to have meetings of up to 40 minutes long for 3 or more callers (unlimited duration for 1-on-1 meetings). Free users on the other hand can have group calls with up to 100 participants.

How Zoom works – hosting meetings

To set up a Zoom video call, you will need to create a free Zoom account. You then sign in, either on the Zoom website or on the Zoom app that you can download to your device.

You then select ‘Host a Meeting’, or ‘New Meeting’ if using the app. For someone to join your meeting, they will need the Meeting ID (an 11-digit number) and the Meeting Password. Alternatively, you can send them the URL link for the meeting, which they just need to click.

Joining meetings

To join a Zoom call, you do not need to have a Zoom account or download the app – you simply need to follow the instructions above to join a meeting that someone has set up. You can input the Meeting ID and Password via the website or app, or simply click on the link that you have been sent.

Before letting your child use Zoom:

  • Get to know the safety settings beforehand. You could go through this with your child or set up a call with another adult to test out the different options and settings.
  • Be there to start the call and check the settings. If another parent is hosting the call, ask them to do so as well.
  • Remind your child to come to you straight away if they need help or are worried about anything online. Explain to them that they can end or leave a call if anything upsets them.
  • The child and device should be in earshot just in case. Allowing a child to use headphones might be more convenient if it is a noisy chat, but be aware that you might not know if something has gone wrong.

Additional features

Zoom also provides additional features to enhance your experience. For example, you have the option to share your screen, which allows everyone else in the meeting to see what is on your computer screen. You also have the option to mute your microphone, which can avoid people talking over each other. There is also the option to record your call.

Zoom also has some fun features, such as changing the background image for your video camera,  or reacting to what’s being said with emojis. Callers can also place a raised hand icon next to their name, showing that they would like an opportunity to speak. There is the option of applying a ‘touch up’ filter to your video.

There is a chat function within Zoom which allows users to send a message to either the entire group within the call, or to direct message another user in private.

Privacy and Security

Here are some tips for ensuring that your Zoom meetings are safe and secure:
1) Update the Zoom app regularly. Even if you use the website it will often take you into the app. Zoom are regularly updating and altering their security settings, so it is best to have the latest version.
2) As with any form of online account, make sure that you use a strong and unique password.
3) When you register with Zoom, you will also be given a Personal Meeting ID – you should avoid making this public. Anyone that knows this ID will be able to join any meeting that you host.
4) Remain alert about fake Zoom apps, which can contain malicious files.
5) Be careful about how you share the link to your meeting. This will help prevent ‘Zoombombing’ (unwelcome or unknown participants attempting to access your meeting and potentially sharing harmful content).
6) Zoom has password protection for meetings set as default – again, be careful about how you share these meeting passwords.
7) Zoom also has ‘Waiting Room’ set as default – this means that the host has to approve each participant before they join the call. Make sure you know who it is requesting to attend your meeting.
8) When sharing your screen with other participants, be sure that what you are about to share is appropriate and that you are happy for it to be shared. You can also set it so that only the host can share their screen.

It is also worth knowing that in the latest update of Zoom that the meeting host can now report a participant during a meeting. The host is able to select which participants they would like to report, include any written details, and add attachments. This report is automatically sent to the Zoom Trust and Safety team to evaluate any misuse of the platform and block a user if necessary.

Other things to be aware of

As with any other form of online socialising, the behaviour of the users play a big part in how safe Zoom is. Cyberbullying, giving away personal information, inappropriate images or messages and peer pressure are universal issues that can pose a risk on any service.

Talk to your child about their internet use and take an interest in why and how they are going to use Zoom. You could frame this conversation around our Family Agreement  to help set out boundaries and expectations, but also give them the confidence to talk to you about any issue they come across online, so that you can help.

Top tips for carers and parents

1) Zoom requires users to be aged 16 and over to have an account. If you decide you are happy to let your child host a meeting via your Zoom account who is under this age, avoid doing this via an account that you may be using for work. It might be safer to set up a separate account for this purpose and make sure that you are present for the beginning of the call.

2) Discuss with young people who they will chat with on Zoom. Are there people that you do not want them to talk to? For example, are friends of friends allowed? Set out your expectations before they use it.

3) Discuss when, where, and for how long they will use the app. Agree together on an acceptable time limit and place that they can use it. With the free version of Zoom having a time limit of 40 minutes for more than 3 participants, this could be a natural time limit to stick to. You could also ask that they use it in a shared family space, or in their bedroom with the door open. Try to come to a compromise and remember that young people want their privacy too.

4) Set some ground rules about behaviour on Zoom. Different topics of conversation or images appropriate for different groups, i.e. family, close friends and other acquaintances. Talk together about what things are appropriate before any calls. You may want to discuss using a virtual background if they don’t want to show where they are.

5) Remind your child to speak with you if anything happens on Zoom that upsets them, and that they can end or leave a call if they are uncomfortable with it.

If anything worrying or upsetting happens to your child online, visit our Need Help? page for further advice and ways to make a report.

This blog post was originally posted on the Childnet blog.

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