Image: Card left at Neverland
Rick Bowmer  /  AP
A card signed by fans is shown at the gates of the late Michael Jackson's former residence, Neverland Ranch, in Los Olivos, Calif., on July 3, 2009.
By
updated 7/5/2009 2:53:58 PM ET 2009-07-05T18:53:58

No matter how unusual their lives may have been so far, Michael Jackson's children now face a universal trauma felt by all kids who suddenly lose a parent.

How the three young Jacksons fare is up to the remaining adults in their lives and whether they can create a sense of stability and security for the grieving youngsters, mental health experts say.

The challenges are particularly daunting for the Jackson kids, with no mother in the picture, custody issues, and unanswered questions ranging from Jackson's suspected drug use to whether he was even their biological father.

That's not to mention the eccentricities before Jackson's death, such as his Peter Pan fixation and drastic cosmetic surgeries, plus unproven allegations of sexual behavior with other children.

The public knows little about the sheltered children — Michael Jr., 12; Paris, 11; and Prince Michael II, 7. They were all born long after Jackson's heyday, and he kept them veiled — sometimes literally — from prying eyes. Whether they are resilient or particularly vulnerable to emotional trauma is unknown.

One thing is certain: "The loss of a parent is a catastrophe" for any young child, and the Jackson kids will need help coping, said Dr. Stuart Goldman, a psychiatrist with Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.

"The kids need to be removed from the limelight and any exposure to television or media needs to be greatly minimized," said Dr. Louis Kraus, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "The distortions of what they see there is not going to be healthy."

Jackson's will names his 79-year-old mother, Katherine Jackson, as the children's guardian. Since Jackson's June 25 death, they have been staying with her and other relatives at the family compound in Encino, a Los Angeles suburb.

An attorney for Jackson's cardiologist said the children requested and were allowed to see Jackson's body, after a psychiatrist was consulted.

Specialists say that isn't necessarily traumatizing. It can give children a chance to say goodbye after a parent's sudden death, and allow the permanence of death to sink in, said Demy Kamboukas, a trauma expert and scientist at New York University's Child Study Center.

Kamboukas and other mental health experts recommended counseling for children who've experienced a parent's death. It gives them a chance to talk about their feelings with an objective observer who isn't also grieving and who can assure them that feelings of fear, anger and loss of control are normal.

Many kids get over profound grief and end up handling a parent's death pretty well, said University of Chicago psychiatrist Dr. Sharon Hirsch.

The Jackson children may be able to, also, she said, "as long as the family rallies around them and helps to continue to love and support them." But, she added, "It isn't going to be easy."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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