Kooringal Public School students and parents face online bullies together with expert Kirra Pendergast

BE PREPARED: Lauren Esler, 11, privacy and online security expert Kirra Pendergast and Freya Matthews, 10, exploring the web with eyes wide open. Picture: Kieren L. Tilly
BE PREPARED: Lauren Esler, 11, privacy and online security expert Kirra Pendergast and Freya Matthews, 10, exploring the web with eyes wide open. Picture: Kieren L. Tilly

For the parents of kids approaching 13, the thought of their children legally establishing their online identity can be daunting. 

“I certainly know of families and close friends’ children who’ve had experiences with online predators,” Shannon Gardiner, mum of three said. 

“I guess as a parent particularly of a girl, my main concerns are being able to keep my child safe online, we can’t stop it, we can’t slow down this train but as a family we can make sure our children are safe and respectful of others.” 

The threat of online bullying looms large for mother of four Louise Lotz due to its unfamiliarity. 

“Bullying’s always occurred, for parents now it’s just about understanding the medium it’s in because we didn’t grow up with it,” Louise said. 

Enter Kirra Pendergast. The cyber bullying expert visited Kooringal Public School yesterday, guiding both students and their parents through the murky world of the web in free talks. 

“An ex-business colleague bullied me online heavily, I didn't leave the house for three months. I woke up one day and thought god if it can effect me like that when I’d been in IT for so long and was a strong and successful woman what’s it doing to kids?” she said. 

Luke Johnson, 10, can’t wait until he can legally get social media, and now he’ll do so prepared. 

“I’ll always make sure my privacy settings are good and make sure that I have no one following me that I don’t want,” he said. 

Ms Pendergast said while parents are often overwhelmed by the amount of platforms, apps or games their kids are accessing, they need to be involved from an early age and set boundaries. 

“There’re big issues around bullying but there are bigger issues around parents not parenting in this space.” 

Not respecting age restrictions, inadvertently self-producing child pornography and not understanding the digital footprint are common errors. She also highlighted the importance of setting an example. 

“When parents are online going off at politicians or saying nasty comments... kids are seeing this attack process and then it validates this bullying behaviour.

“Until we all change our behaviour bullying’s never going to go away.”

You can report cyberbullying and access help at https://www.esafety.gov.au/

If you’re aged between five and 25, you can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.