How Zoom (and Custom Vans) Made Me the “Fun Aunt”

I haven’t lived within a day’s drive of my niece and nephew since they were born. In a weird way, the COVID-19 pandemic gave me an opening to get closer to them because they were suddenly much more willing to video call with me, which these low-tech kids, in open air and freedom were previously reluctant to do. Their remote schooling situation in 2020 and 2021 also required them to learn new computer skills, such as video conferencing and setting up their first email addresses. At that time, they were 8 and 10 years old, so they were ready.

Last year, as their birthdays approached, I was desperately trying to find the perfect gift idea, something they would like and it would make them think of me as the funny aunt. Around the same time, I was shopping for new sneakers for myself and saw that Vans.com had a shoe design module.(Opens in a new window) which lets you select a style of sneaker as your model, then customize the colors and fabrics of every part, from the laces to the toe. And wouldn’t you know, there are options for children’s sizes.

(Credit: PCMag)


The sneaker challenge

“That’s perfect,” I thought. “I’ll let them design their own shoes and then pay for them and ship them.” But how was it going to work?

I didn’t want to take the security risks of sharing my password with them, letting them log in to my account to design the shoe, having them log out, hoping all their work was saved, log back in to make payment, and so on. Also, if I shared my password, I’d be a bad tech role model and was trying to build a reputation as a cool, tech-savvy aunt.

Then I realized there was a very simple solution.


Remote access to the rescue

Zoom Meeting has a built-in remote access tool which is included in the free version. It works like this:

  • Two or more people start a Zoom call.

  • Person 1 starts screen sharing.

  • Person 1 then temporarily gives control of their mouse and keyboard to another person on the call, Person 2.

  • Now person 2 can see person 1’s screen and control what happens on this screen and only this screen. For example, if Person 1 only shares a browser tab, Person 2 can only access the content of that tab.

  • When everyone is done, Person 2 can relinquish control or Person 1 can revoke control, which they can do at any time.

Remote access tools are regularly used for IT support in businesses, where typically people share access to their entire machine, not just a single tab. Remote access tools can also be a lifesaver if a family member or friend isn’t physically near you and needs help troubleshooting their computer. Say, for example, my niece and I are on a video call, and I can’t hear her, but she can’t figure out why. She can share her screen and give me remote access so I can remotely control her mouse and keyboard to open all of her computer’s audio settings and hopefully find and fix the problem. When we’re done, she can regain control of her computer, and I won’t have access to it.

Two people on a Zoom call using screen sharing and remote access tools to design sneakers together

(Credit: PCMag)

Warning: Never give remote access to someone you don’t know, such as a support person you’ve only spoken to on the phone. Scammers pretending to be customer support use remote access software to access people’s bank accounts, collect personal information, and run other scams.

In the case of sneaker design, I logged into my Vans account and went to the screen where you first choose a shoe style to customize. This browser tab would be the only one I would make available during screen sharing to minimize the risk that my nephew (who went first) might accidentally select something he wasn’t supposed to do on my computer.


Give Someone Remote Access Using Toolbar Options in Zoom Meeting

(Credit: PCMag)

How to Give Someone Remote Access in Zoom

We both joined a Zoom meeting; I told him the plan, he seemed excited, and I shared my screen. Then I gave him control.

To give someone control of your mouse and keyboard, look at the top of the screen for the Remote control option. When you click on it, a drop-down list of options appears, including the option to give control to a specific person when calling with you.

As long as that person is in control, you are also in control. In other words, if you see them hovering over something they should be selecting, you can move the cursor off of it. You can revoke control at any time, and the other person can also return control at any time.


Two sneakers designed using Vans.com customization tools

(Credit: PCMag)

Did I win the “Fun Aunt” award?

Both kids loved the sneakers once they arrived which took a good three weeks as the shoes had to be custom made. They both did a commendable job of creating shoes with designs that looked good and weren’t garish or jarring. I was frankly impressed. See the image above.

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I asked the two children what they thought of the process. Was it fun? Did they like it? Would they recommend it? They answered yes to all of these questions, but said the remote access feature was slow, which it is. You don’t get perfectly smooth controls. There is a certain lag and hesitation in responsiveness. But it works.

They also told me that they are now going to the Vans website to design for fun, not only shoes, but also backpacks and hoodies. My niece said to me, “If you feel like you should only use it to buy shoes, you don’t have to. If you are interested in graphic design, you can also use it for that. Smart kid!

Options for different sneaker and apparel styles that you can customize at Vans.com

(Credit: PCMag)

I asked my nephew if he thought this was a good gift, and he said yes and that was even better than being told he could choose any gift. “It’s cool because you can customize it to be more you,” he said.

So did I earn the title “fun aunt?” Truth be told, I have tough competition, but I’m definitely the one who knows where to buy cool sneakers.

Want more? Check out PCMag’s recommendations, tips and news on tech for kids.

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