How Time at a Youth Correctional Center Inspired My Parenting

Growing up I was surrounded by “bad” kids.  Kids who stole, drank,  did drugs and got into fights.

I spent countless hours with kids that most parents would shun their kids from spending time with.  Kids who society labeled as “Bad”.

But I didn’t see it that way.

I saw real people.  I saw broken hearts.  I saw vulnerability.

I saw kids who just wanted someone to love them.  Kids who just wanted someone to trust that they could be good.  Kids who wanted someone to ask questions to without being judgmental.  Kids who so desperately wanted to learn skills of how to get along in this world.

These kids weren’t born “bad”.  They were born with the same amount of love that we are all born with.  But somewhere along the way people left their lives, people tried to control them, people yelled at them when they made a mistake, people tried to force them to be someone they weren’t.  People didn’t believe they were good.

Most of the time, these people were their parents.

These kids so wanted to feel loved by their parents.  They wanted to feel like they weren’t a mistake in life, but they were reminded daily that they were a burden to their parents, so they put up a hard outer shell as a defense mechanism.  They got angry and didn’t know how to deal with it.  Nobody was there to guide them.

I never met any of these kids parents, but I know they didn’t intentionally set off in life to be “bad” parents to their kids.  Nobody does.  They simply didn’t have the right skills to foster the love that they wanted to feel.  Most likely they never sat down and thought about how to parent or what was important in parenting and to their kids.  They just reacted.

Most of the kids at the youth correctional center where my church was, where my mother ran music, act and drama programs, just wanted to know how to live in love.

Sometimes they didn’t even know it (love) was possible.

As a youngster I would tag along with my mom, singing, acting, alongside these kids, befriending them on hikes, canoe rides, art projects.

The kids wouldn’t talk about their past, but would ask me questions of what it was like to grow up in a happy home.  They would ask me how my mom and I got along so well without fighting.  They would ask me questions about my life and what I did.

We teased each other, we laughed, we sang, we saw life as good.  At least for those moments.

Over the years I became so close to some of the kids that I see them as my siblings.

What I took from this experience was life changing.

What these kids taught me was that everyone wants the same things in life.

To be loved, to be trusted and to be heard.

Ultimately, it was this experience of volunteering at a youth correctional center that shaped my parenting.

As a parent I seek to express love to my children, to trust them (their ideas, their feelings and their actions) and to always give them an opportunity to be heard.

While this seems like common sense, so many parents are so busy managing their own lives, that they get caught up in managing their children lives  as well.

Don’t worry, there have been days that I too have gotten caught up in the pace of life and I go to bed thinking “Crap, I messed up today.”  But each day I get up with this mantra of love, trust and listen.

Love TrustListen

This morning my son found a book laying in the living room called Out of Control: Why Disciplining Your Child Doesn’t Work and What Will by Dr. Shefali Tsabary.  He picked it up and started reading it.  For the next 20 minutes he was engrossed in the book, curled up on the chair.

I went over and touched his knee and said, “Our family isn’t out of control,  but I like how this person thinks about parenting from her other book The Conscious Parent, so I ordered this book as well.”

My son looked up briefly and then continued reading.

At the breakfast table I mentioned that they were free to read either of Dr. Shefali’s books.

I shared with them of how my many years volunteering at the youth correctional center made me open my eyes to what was important to kids and how that shaped my parenting.

When I shared my three principles to parenting – to love, to trust and to listen – my son immediately pipped up and said, “Ya, we (kids) are always talking about our day and our stuff and if parents don’t listen then kids get sad and will start yelling.”


Kids know that parents love them, but what kids want is to be heard.  Don’t we all?

So many times I hear parents shutting their kids down.  They don’t listen to the small stuff, they aren’t interested or they don’t actually listen to their kids, they think they are, but they are just assuming they are listening, they don’t hear what their kids are saying because they are too busy reacting from their own emotions.

A few years ago when my boys were little, we had people visiting our house and one of the kids saw some cards and magnets on our counter that were brightly colored with different feelings on them.  When he inquired I took it as a lead from him that he wanted to know more, so I shared the cards and magnets with him and asked him questions in return.

When I asked him how he felt, he easily replied.

Within seconds his mom said, “Oh, come on, you don’t really feel that way.”

My heart sank.  So did his.

His mom just missed one of the most open and honest moments of his life.



How many times have your kids talked to you when you were too busy to listen?

How many times have your kids shared with you how they felt and you didn’t listen, but rather either put them down or tried to change their feeling because it made YOU uncomfortable?

Too often we don’t listen.  Too often we don’t trust our kids.

Most parents have the love part down, but the thing is, if our kids don’t feel heard or trusted, then they doubt the love.  They begin to doubt who they are. When kids doubt who they are, negative feelings and actions arise as a defense mechanism.


I challenge you this week to take time to listen to your kids.

Listen to the words they are saying.

Listen without judgement.

Take a deep breath and don’t let your personal emotions interfere.

I promise you, you will learn things that will surprise you.

I promise you will grow.

I promise that your relationship with your kids will become deeper and more honest.

With gratitude,






I’ve shared my story, now I want to hear yours.  

What has been your biggest source for inspiration for your parenting?

Did you realize it was your inspiration at that time or did it occur to you later that it had shaped your thoughts about parenting?

Share your story in the comments below~  

It takes a village to raise a child, the more we share the more we grow. 🙂

About The Author

Summer Brackhan

Mom, sociologist, teacher, author, musician, world traveler, parenting and health coach who believes healthy living incorporates body, mind and soul and that life is not about living in little boxes, but experiencing everything at its fullest.

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