A mother came across her young teen daughter crying hysterically. Was it a bully at school? No. Boy trouble? In a way. It was the departure of singer Zayn Malik from the band One Direction (1D) that sent her into an emotional tailspin. And she was anything but alone in her anguish.

Across the United States and around the world, tens of thousands of fans, perhaps more, took to social media channels in droves to express grief and mourning. Many parents, finding their children in tears, are bewildered and unsure how to respond.

In a Facebook post, Malik told fans he was leaving the band because “I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight.”

1D isn’t the first boy band to lose a member or break up and won’t be the last. Boy bands such as The Monkees, the Osmonds, New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys have come and gone over the last few decades, leaving swooning fans heartbroken.

But the outpouring of grief over Malik, one of five 1D band members, is different because of the heavy use of social media, says Dr. Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Connecticut who counsels teens and families. She said when the news broke on March 25, she helped counsel three teens that were extremely distraught and in tears.

“These boy bands become part of these girls’ families and even fantasy boyfriends, in some cases,” Greenberg says. “They experience the loss of Zayn as a loss or betrayal of a family member.”

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How parents can help children cope

Make no mistake, Greenberg says, a child or teen who is grieving about this loss is truly in pain. Their feelings should be taken seriously and parents should embrace the opportunity to channel these feelings of loss in a healthy way.

Unfortunately, the hysteria on social media can cause more harm than good without parental support, she warns. With many fans posting suicidal thoughts and the birth of the Twitter hashtag #CutforZayn encouraging fans to cut themselves to mourn Zayn’s departure, kids are exposed to potentially harmful ways to mourn, Greenberg says.

“It creates a mass hysteria when your daughter may see a large group of girls talking about cutting themselves — and that can become contagious,” she says. “Good things happen on social media, like the ability to access information, but it can also create a negative group dynamic.”

Greenberg offers the following tips for parents to help children cope safely:

  • Listen without judgment. Your child needs to express his or her grief, so be there with open ears. Don’t make light of the situation or joke about it. To your child, it’s a serious loss, and allowing your teen or preteen to talk about it helps them heal.
  • Limit screen time. Kids will want to use social media as an outlet, and that’s OK in moderation as long as they are exposed to healthy grieving. But limit online exposure (much like you should limit TV exposure during a terrible tragedy) so your child isn’t overwhelmed by the mass outpouring of grief.
  • Seize the teachable moment. Teens and young fans should know that there are many transitions in life, and while the loss of Zayn is hard on them, he left the band for his own reasons and by his own choice. Change is part of life, and this is one of many transitions they will experience as the years go by.

If you see or hear your child talking about suicide or harming herself, don’t hesitate to seek professional help right away.

Greenberg also suggests parents venture online with their children to discuss healthy ways to grieve. Encourage your child to express herself in other ways, perhaps with poetry or a tribute.

“The lesson is that this is a transition in life, and this is a good opportunity to learn about transitions,” Greenberg says. “Teach them that it isn’t about what Zayn did to them, it’s something he had to do for himself…. It’s a good lesson in empathy.”

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Ronald Agrella is a freelance writer and former editor of The Boston Globe’s Boston.com.