Zayn Malik
Zayn Malik departure really is the end of the world for kidsREUTERS/Andrew Burton

I feel sorry for One Direction fans. It's not because they've had to endure crap and awful music for a billion years, or however long it is "1D" has been around. It's because, for a lot of them, Zayn Malik leaving the band will be the first time they've experienced anything like heartbreak, or real disappointment.

The hashtag that's sprung up on Twitter, #AlwaysInOurHeartsZaynMalik, tells you everything you need to know. It makes it sound like the guy's just died, and a lot of the "tributes" tweeted to him have sounded borderline grieving. It's an extreme emotional reaction. But it's entirely warranted.

This isn't teenagers going overboard – this isn't an example of poisonous, cultural hysteria, as if corporations have pushed One Direction so hard that they've become a kind of cult, complete with followers who'll die should anything happen to their leaders. It's just the natural reaction of youngsters who, until now, probably haven't faced hardship.

I was more into videogames than music when I was a "tween", but I nevertheless remember feeling crushing ruddy pain when things went wrong. My PlayStation broke once and I spent a day crying in my bedroom. The internet went down and kicked me out of an online game, and I went to pieces, sobbing, silent and refusing to even look at anybody.

In hindsight, as an adult, these things obviously seem puny and petty. But when you're a kid and you aren't yet accustomed to the world and all its unfairness, seemingly random dick moves like these have a resounding affect on you. It's just the same as when you were at primary school and mum made you wear shorts, or packed you a lunch with fruit instead of chocolate. Your world was so small back then that little discrepancies like these felt like doom.

It's not because you were a bad person – it's not because you were spoiled or stupid or swept up. You were just young, and didn't know any better.

That's what I see happening with One Direction fans and Zayn Malik. I can understand how parents can look at what their kids are saying and be freaked out by it. I can also understand how parents' initial response to that behaviour might be to chide or disapprove – to worry that kids today are being caught up in fads and the internet, and to wonder if their access to those things ought to be curtailed. But that seems pretty knee-jerk.

I think rather than trying to explain to the kid that this is just a passing thing, or that it doesn't really matter, etc etc., it might be better to try and empathise. It'll seem ridiculous, because, Jesus Christ, this is just one crappy singer leaving one crappy, manufactured band. But try and be sincere, because your kid is genuinely hurting.

It's a bit touchy-feely, a bit bloody Waltons, but teenagers and tweens must feel like they're the most misunderstood people on the planet. For them, everything's a disaster. Every mishap, let down and unprompted, day-to-day dicking over is catastrophic, because it's never, ever happened before. They have no context for it. And we, the adults, who have put up with this garbage for years now, walk around pretty much unfazed by it.

Harry Styles
Harry Styles' crying probably didn't help matters.

So, no wonder we look clueless. No wonder teenagers feel misunderstood. As far as they're concerned, they're the only ones with any insight into how bad the world is – everyone else seems not to notice. That's not the case – like I said, teenagers just don't realise that grown-ups have become more or less immune to the world's horribleness – but try and see it from the teenager's point of view.

Try to remember what it was like when you were that age. Remember what it was like, and also, try not to use the knowledge and experience you've gained since then as licence to talk down. Of course these things don't affect you any more – you're a grown-up. And of course it can seem frustrating that, given the myriad, genuine awfulness occurring in the world, Zayn Malik is what your kid is upset about. But they will, one day, get to where you are themselves. They will, one day, have to contend with all the actual hideousness as well. So for now, just park all that, and try to help them through this first experience with disappointment.

Don't get mad at them for being sad about Zayn Malik. By all means worry, but don't worry about them being hysterical, or somehow brainwashed into hysteria by popular culture and the internet. This One Direction thing represents your kid's first step into a frankly cold, indifferent world. Coaching them through it and showing them that, despite all the pain, there are people in their lives who understand and want to help – that should be your concern.

Ed Smith writes about games, films and culture for IBTimes UK. He has also written for The Observer, Vice, New Statesman and Edge magazine. Find him on Twitter @mostsincerelyed