Michael Jackson, Childhood and the Human Need for Understanding

Abstract: In this article, Michael Jackson’s traumatic childhood is examined and analyzed. But its purpose is to help bring awareness of our own childhoods, and how like Jackson, our personality, behaviour and views are shaped by our childhood experiences. 

Brad Washington is writer for ‘US Today’s Atlanta Falcons wire’ and ‘Fansided’. He also writes for ‘The Source Magazine’ and written for ‘Pop Matters’ in the past. He earned his bachelors degree from Anderson University, studying Behaviour Science.


Washington, Brad. “Michael Jackson, Childhood and the Human Need for Understanding” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 4 (2018). Published electronically 02/05/19. https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/michael-jackson,-childhood-and-the-human-need-for-understanding

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Michael Jackson, Childhood and the Human Need for Understanding by Brad Washington

“Because I don’t read all the things written about me, I wasn’t aware that the world thought I was so weird and bizarre. But when you grow up as I did, in front of one hundred million people since the age of five, you’re automatically different. The last few weeks, I have been cleansing myself and it’s been a rebirth for myself. It’s like a cleansing spirit. My childhood was completely taken away from me. There was no Christmas, there were no birthdays, it was not a normal childhood, nor the normal pleasures of childhood — those were exchanged for hard work, struggle and pain and eventually material and professional success. But as an awful price, I cannot re-create that part of my life, nor would I change any part of my life.” [1] Michael Jackson: 1993 Grammy’s speech. 

We all have encountered experiences in our earlier years that have impacted our behavior, personal views and beliefs. It could be refusing to commit to a relationship due to broken trust from someone we admired growing up, or in a positive light, turning negative treatment and doubt of our abilities into a burning fire to achieve. Those troubling experiences have shaped how we view the world, and are imprinted into our consciousness. 

While these factors happen to all of us, sadly, we as a human race can sometimes negate these factors all-around, not just with celebrities. We can become trapped into judging others without adequately looking at our own behavioral patterns that could be traced back to childhood. [3] This has led to a cycle of misunderstanding that has plagued the human race, and has been enhanced by the instant gratification of social media.

For Michael Jackson, his life centered on this psychological phenomena and could be viewed as a prime example of childhood experiences impacting the adult life. Jackson, born with the innate talent to perform, was instilled discipline at a young age but also understood its necessity in the variable of success. At the age of 11, he sung lead with his brothers, “The Jackson 5” on the hit “I Want You Back.” From that point forward, The Jackson 5 and his life were never the same. 

He and his brothers would embark on tours across the globe, performing in front of millions of fans while recording hits at a rapid pace during Jackson-mania. Adulation from fans young and old, male and female would become par for the course. But the price paid for his successful career translated to never having the chance to fulfill the childhood that the average child encountered. 

In exchange for greatness, Jackson had to abandon the school yard and playground sets. For his father, Joe Jackson, the disciplined required for greatness would come out favorably than staying out until the street lights came on. In Joe’s universe, rehearsal was the play of choice for his young boys, and if Michael and his brothers missed a step or made a mistake in rehearsal, a consequence would happen, usually in the form of whippings. 

This form of discipline would propel Jackson into the world-renown entertainer loved by many.  He infamously cried after his legendary Motown 25 performance because he didn’t stay on his toes long enough. It even impacted him in the studio, where his perfectionism would produce the timeless works such as “Billie Jean” and “Stranger in Moscow.” But while Jackson had the dedication, musical gifts and the desired perfectionism to succeed, it would come with giving up the childhood he craved. This would create a gaping hole in Jackson that impacted him even at the highest points of his fame. 

*But as human’s we naturally never look beyond the surface, and we should use Jackson’s life as a way to do so. Instead of examining how things happened, we should examine the why. Unfortunately, Jackson never would get that justice within the court of public opinion. When in reality, like everyone else, he just responded to life from the experiences of childhood. 

Jackson throughout his adult life would always long for the childhood experiences that were obsolete. Even after acquiring the money, fame and expenditures, the lack of time to enjoy being a child would haunt Jackson to his grave. This would explain his fascination with child-like things and wanting to be around children as a grown man-even with his fame. Jackson wanted to recreate the innocence of childhood that the ruthless world of entertainment wouldn’t permit.

His childhood could also explain his insecurities with his looks, as numerous plastic surgeries for the “perfect” face would leave Jackson unrecognizable from his early adult years. Jackson’s surgical procedures were a way to cover his insecurity, as he had the luxury to fit his face to his liking. It’s estimated that Jackson would undergo 100 operations.  But the root of these feelings of unsureness began in adolescence. [4]

Jackson self-consciousness began with his own perception on how he looked as a teenager. Jackson thought he was ugly, and didn’t like the nose appearance and skin. But Joe Jackson didn’t help matters, calling his gifted son “big nose” which deepened his son’s insecurity. [4] This led to repeated surgeries on his face and nose, in which he was never satisfied. But these actions permeate from the years of whippings for missteps in rehearsals and lack of love and nurture needed for some one of Michael’s caliber. Jackson would deal with reclusiveness, lack of self-confidence and feelings of loneliness for the remainder of his life. 

Because of his deep regard for child-like things, eccentric behavior and his plastic surgeries, Michael Jackson would become judged, ridiculed and mocked persistently. It took until his death for the masses to remember him as one of the greatest entertainers who ever lived. However, the general population skipped over these key factors that drove Jackson’s behavior in favor of ridicule. The signs that Jackson was seeking the love and affection of his father, while relishing for the childhood he never had were blatantly ignored. 

But the lack of critical thinking can cause the human race to naturally not use the facts in front of us. It can be seen as a simpler way to operate, as the focus on someone else’s problem can leave us to not focus on our own issues. When in fact, we all have issues, behaviors and traits that we battle every day. Like Jackson, they stem from childhood and early adolescence experiences. 

Ironically, many people behave a certain way due to the same lack of love and care from their fathers that Jackson suffered, or not having the social experiences necessary in childhood. [5] The biggest difference between Jackson and the average person were his money, fame and the ability to sway others that he didn’t need any help to fix his troubling issues. In his world, he was Michael Jackson: he had other remedies that could solve the issue. 

 Jackson lived his life in the public eye, so it was easy to look at his eccentricity as something to laugh at. [6] But, the lack of critical thinking amongst humans has always been prevalent. The rise of social media and its ability to curate groupthink has made the lack of critical thinking a moot point. Emotional reactions and judgement from humans are a dime a dozen. 

Instead, we should use Jackson’s life as a reminder to examine our own behaviors, before we premeditatedly judge others. We all have behaviors we exhibit that aren’t healthy, insecurities we fight and doubts that stem from our childhood experiences. These revelations about ourselves aren’t intended to be an excuse for our or Jackson’s behavior, but only a point of reference to where the behavior can be traced back to. No one on this planet will be left unscarred from previous incidents, and Jackson best represented that money, fame and fortune could not erase those scars from childhood

But If Jackson were here today, the outpour of love and respect he has garnered in the near-10 years since his death would more than likely sooth his soul. The understanding of his behavior has been more carefully analyzed, and while people still hold his behavior accountable, it’s done so with more understanding of the man who lived a complicated life. But as human beings, we shouldn’t wait to understand someone while they are no longer living: we should start today. However, this line of thinking begins when we can analyze our own childhood and see the trends in our own behavior. The scars won’t go away, but we will get a better grasp of not only ourselves, but others, too. 

As Michael painfully sung in his iconic HIStory track “Childhood,” the world understanding his the rigors of his childhood was all he asked for.

“Before you judge me, try hard to love me

Look within your heart then ask

Have you seen my Childhood?” [7] 


1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvNdv6sVCPo

2. Vogel J. “Am I the Beast You Visualized?” The Cultural Abuse of Michael Jackson. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/michael-jackson-trial-_b_1068750. Published January 2, 2012. Accessed April 4, 2019.

3. Childhood Maltreatment Predicts Unfavorable Course of Illness and Treatment Outcome in Depression: A Meta-Analysis Valentina Nanni-Rudolf Uher-Andrea Danese – American Journal of Psychiatry – 2012

4. Vogel, Joseph (2012).  Have You Seen My Childhood? “Featuring Michael Jackson” (p. 80) New York

5. Maccoby, E. E. (2000). Parenting and its Effects on Children: On Reading and Misreading Behavior Genetics. Annual Review of Psychology, 51(1), 1-27. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.51.1.1

6. Vogel, J. (2012, February 10). The Misunderstood Power of Michael Jackson’s Music. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/02/the-misunderstood-power-of-michael-jacksons-music/252751/

7. Michael Jackson – Childhood. (1995, June 16). Retrieved from https://genius.com/Michael-jackson-childhood-lyrics