Care and Feeding

My School’s Zoom Sessions Keep Getting “Bombed”

The abuse is really getting to me. How can I make it stop?

A teen makes an anguished expression at a laptop screen.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My school is one of the many that have had multiple Zoom-bombings. First, it was a kid who said the N-word. Then it was another kid who showed his, um, inappropriate item. We have had a horrible time with these, and I am just horrified and scared. Today was the cherry on top of the mountain of garbage: A kid in a group chat started spamming the N-word. He is white, and I am terrified. How can I make this stop? I want to leave all group chats and not talk to anyone but my closest friends, but I have no idea what to do.

— Zoom Out

Dear ZO,

Ugh, I am so sorry that your Zoom experience has been so riddled by online harassment, which feels disgusting at any age. If these are mandatory class meetings, you should speak to your parents, your teacher, and, if necessary, an administrator from your school about switching to another platform that is more secure. If these are calls that have been organized by peers for social reasons, there is no need for you to submit yourself to such an uncomfortable space in order to talk to your buddies. Let them know you’re no fan of the platform and that you can be reached otherwise for chitchat and/or online fun. Be safe out there, and there’s nothing wrong with taking screen breaks when something unsettling happens online.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Our state has slowly been opening up over the past few weeks, and our nanny started back at work last week. After four days, however, she expressed her discomfort at returning to work in our home as she lives with a person who is a high risk for COVID-19. My partner has been an essential worker during quarantine, so legally, she could have been working for us, but we followed the governor’s general guidelines and gave her more time at home. She is saying she will be able to come back in June. I can tell, and I completely understand, that she has a great deal of anxiety about working in our home. She says she both needs the money but also wishes to quarantine more aggressively. We have been following stay-at home orders, but our social distancing hasn’t been perfect (we see neighbors and friends in the yard; have a social isolation bubble with another family). Her discomfort is also making me anxious. I understand and sympathize with her trepidation, but I also really need child care for my two small children. Are we just no longer a good fit? I’m not sure if I should hang on because we love and trust her or let her go.

— Child Care in the Time of COVID

Dear CCitToC,

Your partner is an essential worker. Your nanny, who relies on working for you for income, lives with someone who is high risk (and, of course, is a person herself who may become quite ill from COVID despite not presenting known risk factors). It seems likely that you had some sort of time to prepare for the reopening of your state and the return of this employee. Yet, you didn’t stop your flagrant disregard for social distancing in advance of her reemergence in your home, nor have you implied here that you are willing to change your behaviors in order to keep your nanny and her housemate safe.

Are you sure that you “love” her? Because you haven’t even shown her a shred of basic human decency here, and no, allowing her to take off more time than the state would have mandated due to your partner’s essential job does not count.

Nannies, housekeepers, and other in-home service workers have died and will continue to die because their employers refuse to prioritize the safety of this largely POC and working-class demographic over their own needs—needs that include backyard gatherings and social distancing bubbles that those of us who have an established higher risk of COVID-19 infection and/or death don’t have the privilege of having.

I don’t want to be overly harsh, but there is a sharp contrast between many of the people who treat social distancing as a terrible inconvenience to be performed at will and not out of obligation, and those who are forced to encounter them in order to make a living. And it is absolutely horrific.

Your husband’s job introduces a level of risk to your nanny even if your family had been practicing effective social distancing, but it sounds like she was willing to assume that risk either out of loyalty to your household and/or because she desperately needs to continue working. Again, you chose not to repay her for that sacrifice by letting go of your socializing. If you care about this woman at all, you ought to shut down your activities now and abstain from them for at least two weeks before she is scheduled to return. You did say you loved her, right? Well, you wouldn’t send her back to the job market during a pandemic in order to keep up with a dangerously indulgent habit that sends an awful message to your kids if they are old enough to see you flouting the rules, would you? I sure hope not.

• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a single, childless woman in my mid-20s. The other day I was driving and saw two girls (the youngest was 4 or 5, and the oldest was 6 or 7) riding a two-wheeled bike and in-line skates on the sidewalk. The younger girl on the bike did not have reasonable control of the bike, kept veering off, and had to stop and put her feet on the ground. There was no adult with them. I had been driving on this road for at least a mile and there was no one else walking on the sidewalk, and I continued to drive down the road for another three miles and didn’t see any other adults. This is a very busy road where the speed limit is 45 mph, but people drive much faster. There’s a sidewalk but no grass or bike line (or anything) between the road and the sidewalk, so if you step off the sidewalk, you’re right in the street. A little further down the road than where the girls were (but they were approaching), there are several entrances to neighborhoods with no crosswalk or light, so people just turn straight off the road into the area, sometimes without looking to see if someone is crossing.

I’ve never seen another unaccompanied kid on this road. I thought about turning around and stopping to ask if there was an adult with them or if they needed help, but I didn’t want to be seen as a creep, and also there’s not really a good place to just stop in the road—I could’ve gotten rear-ended. I also thought about calling the police, but that seemed like an overreach. Eventually, I just did nothing. Thankfully nothing happened (otherwise it would’ve been on the news), but I’ve been kicking myself for not doing anything. I guess my question is, what would you have done? Do these ages seem young to be out on a semi-busy road by themselves? For what it’s worth, I’m White, and the girls are Black in an overwhelmingly White suburb.

—What Would You Do IRL

Dear WWYDIRL,

I understand how it may be frightening to approach children in any way that can be deemed inappropriate, but there are circumstances in which the risk is worth it, and this was one of them. You should have found a safe place to pull over and tried to make contact with their parent(s). The eldest child, if not both of them, should know a phone number for emergency reasons and even if she did not, you could have taken the time to find out to whom they were traveling and followed behind them to ensure they made it there safely.

Since you mention the race of the girls, I’m assuming that you had some concerns related to the possible interpretation of stopping the girls as the work of a meddling white woman challenging the ability of two Black girls to walk through this community without interference. That would be a reasonable consideration if these were adults who looked lost or were struggling with a bike (and along that line of thinking, you should avoid calling the police in regard to Black folks in the neighborhood unless it is absolutely necessary).

Alas, we are talking about very small little girls, one of whom was struggling to pedal a bike in an area where she may be more likely than usual to be struck by a car. Would you have hesitated to step in if they were white? Would you have been more concerned about pissing off their parents, or keeping them safe? Or, perhaps, would you have seen a clear, indisputable reason to assist them that didn’t show up when it came to these little Black girls? And if so, take some time to figure out why that is.

I know that suggesting a racial bias will stir up some emotions among certain readers, but do be reminded that Black girls are often viewed as being older, more independent, and capable than they actually are, and to their detriment. It seems fair to assume that those two babies were less likely to be stopped and aided in an all-white enclave than a little Cindy and Marsha Brady may have been, and it makes me sad to think of my own 7-year-old Black girl already failing to garner the empathy that ought to be afforded to a child her age for any reason (especially the suggestion that one of her parents would react negatively to someone trying to keep her alive). Also sad is knowing that if these kids had run away and gone missing, the search to bring them home would be made all the more difficult by the number of adults who wouldn’t hesitate to pass them by like you did.

I am personally of the opinion that any adult who has a child that small in their line of sight has an obligation to concern themselves with their safety, even if the kid’s parents have failed in that regard by letting them go out into the street ill-prepared. I hope that you will join me in that, and in recognizing that the increased vulnerability of kids of color in a white community means that you should be more inclined to provide aid to them if needed—not less.

Dear Care and Feeding,

A year ago, my 51-year-old husband had a fatal heart attack on the living room floor with all the sights, sounds, and general indignity associated with such a death. My then 13-year-old daughter was there and saw everything. She had to move furniture and help me turn him over so I could start CPR. The paramedics were called but the actual moment of his death occurred before they arrived and it was unmistakable and awful to see. He was not able to be resuscitated. Shortly after her dad died, I took my daughter to a couple of counseling sessions, but she said they were unhelpful and requested not to return. I agreed.

Since then, my daughter has had a year of loss, including the death of the two family dogs, a painful knee injury that required surgery/ended her cheerleading career, and the permanent closure of the small private school that she has attended since the age of 4 and had planned on attending for high school. When classes start back up, she will be attending a large public high school, the prospect of which terrifies her. Throughout this year, I have suggested counseling several times, but she refuses. She gets the majority of her emotional support from her friend group and school. Now with COVID-19 and the school closure, that is practically gone (she does connect with her friends via phone, and her grades through distance learning are still good). I am receiving counseling for myself but feel I am incredibly inadequate to assist this grieving child. Any suggestions?

—Grieving Mom

Dear GM,

First, my sincerest condolences to you. I am so sorry for your loss and for the difficult period that both you and your daughter have endured in its wake. I’m glad that you are taking steps to help yourself to heal by receiving some help.

That said, I don’t think a 13-year-old is ready to decide that she doesn’t require the support of a professional after a series of such deeply devastating events. Her lack of desire is not to be confused with a lack of need, and while it may be difficult to fight with her over this (or anything else right now, and understandably so), it is in your daughter’s best interest that you put your foot down and insist that she begins some sort of counseling as soon as possible.

Try to talk to her about what her issues are with the idea of talking to someone and if there are ways to mitigate some of them. (For example, establishing a way in which she can privately speak to someone virtually without you hearing what she has to say if she’s worried about speaking freely, or finding a younger, female counselor if she’s expressed a disinterest in talking to “some old dude”—which may be easiest considering that she is grieving the loss of her dad and may find talking to someone who feels fatherly to be more upsetting than comforting.) Be patient, kind, and understanding; but also be clear—this isn’t an option, but a mandate. All my love to you both.

— Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

I have been having the same problem with my husband for years. He sets his alarm incredibly early in the morning and mine goes off about two hours later. He gets up with his alarm about two-thirds of the time. Even then, he’s never the first to respond to it. Every single morning for 10 years, I’ve had to shake him awake to shut off his alarm, and sometimes I have to repeat it every 20 minutes until he gets up. I do not fall asleep so readily, so I am often awake in between snoozes. In addition, he is a great sleeper through the night, whereas I toss and turn and wake up for every sound the kids make. When he actually does get up on time, he works very hard on stuff, so I don’t want to insist he “can’t” set his alarm early. Is this just something I have to deal with?