Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
An Auckland mother has posted heartbreaking footage of the emotional toll that watching the "Momo" suicide game has had on her children.
On Wednesday, Manurewa resident Khamara Ashby sat her children down to talk about the sickening character that is said to be appearing in YouTube videos, encouraging viewers to self-harm or take their own life.
The "Momo" character - a scary doll's face holding a knife - interrupts shows and threatens viewers. It has appeared on Fortnite, Peppa Pig and other popular YouTube videos and warns children if they tell their parents then their family will die.
After suspecting her children had accidentally watched it, Ashby held up a photo of Momo, asking if they knew who it was.
Suddenly, her children burst into tears saying: "It's scaring me, we're sorry, stop saying her name, we're going to be killed."
"My 7-year-old son was hanging out with his friends at school watching Fortnite gameplay videos and about 14 minutes into the video Momo popped up and said: 'If you tell anybody I'm going to kill your mum and dad'," Ashby told the Herald.
"All of the boys stood up shocked. My boy wanted to tell the teacher and tell us but after hearing Momo threatening their families they didn't end up telling anybody ... they were too scared they would get their family killed.
"When I sat them down and showed them a photo, my 5-year-old daughter jumped into my arms crying, saying 'she's coming now'. My son begged us to move house and said we had to move before Momo comes."
During her talk with her children, Ashby reminded them not to ever give out their name or personal details on the internet and told them that Momo is fake and it can't ever hurt them.
However, the emotional impact Momo has had on her children has left Ashby fearful.
"I spoke to other parents from their class and they were saying their children all broke down in tears and were apologising. They all thought they were going to die, including our family.
"Hearing that from your little boy and watching his heart shatter is heartbreaking.
"The first time my son saw it was in December last year but he was too scared to tell us. It was tragic. We knew something was up because Christmas wasn't the same and it was like he was hiding something from us. But when we asked what was up he'd say he is fine and to leave me alone.
"When I finally showed them a screenshot of Momo yesterday they just jumped straight back, the tears wouldn't stop and my son starting apologising and saying can we move out of Auckland because Momo is coming.
"I had to calm him down. I didn't know I was going to get this reaction. He was petrified.
"My son tells me everything and to know he hadn't told me that since December because he had been that scared made us all so distraught."
The Momo Challenge first gained public attention in July 2018 when people said they first noticed it on YouTube.
Schools around the globe this week have sent out warnings on their websites and social media accounts, saying they have been contacted by hundreds of concerned parents.
Ashby wants her children's personal experience with the disturbing character to be used as a warning and learning tool for other parents.
"Let your children know it's okay to speak up and keep an eye on the things they watch.
"Keep loving and protect them. That's our purpose as parents. Sit down and have a chat to your child about this as they might feel they have to keep it a secret as a way to keep safe.
"No children should ever feel the need to protect us when we should be the ones making them feel safe. It breaks my heart knowing my kids witnessed something so horrible."
The character's appearance on Kiwi children's screens hasn't just been noted by parents, with Netsafe telling the Herald it has received a few recent reports over Momo.
Netsafe director of education and engagement Sean Lyons says any parents who have come across any concerning content should immediately report it to authorities.
"Netsafe encourages anyone that comes across this type of content to immediately report it to the social media site or website that it's on.
"In New Zealand, it is against the law to incite another person to take their own life. If somebody is targeting a young person to play this 'game', or attempting to incite suicide, you should contact the police and Netsafe for help, and Lifeline for support.
"Netsafe can also provide advice for any parents who are concerned about this challenge. If young people are expressing feelings about self-harm or suicide then this should be followed up with appropriate mental health support."
YouTube says it has yet to see any evidence of the challenge on its platform.
"After much review, we've seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are clearly against our policies, the Momo challenge included. Despite press reports of this challenge surfacing, we haven't had any recent links flagged or shared with us from YouTube that violate our Community Guidelines," a statement from YouTube says.
Netsafe's advice for parents about exposure to upsetting content:
• Have a conversation with young people about what to do if they do come across upsetting content online.
• Let your child know that they can come to you when they find something upsetting and they won't get in trouble.
• Stay calm if they do come to you – don't assign blame, reassure them that it's not their fault and don't punish them for seeking help.
• Normalise their feelings – let them know that it is normal to feel scared, confused or upset.
• Don't over-react by taking away the technology – this may make them less likely to talk to you if something else happens.
• For young children in particular, consider using parental controls to block out specific keywords like "Momo".
• If you or your child comes across this type of content report it to the platform that it's on.
• If your child is expressing any concerning feelings, follow up with mental health support.
• If you know that a young person has been engaging in this challenge, report it to the Police and Netsafe, and ask Lifeline for support.
Contact Netsafe for free and confidential advice seven days a week on 0508 NETSAFE, email email@example.com or visit www.netsafe.org.nz
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202