"I don't understand," a father complained to me, "why my 15-year-old son is not sharing with me and confiding in me about his life. Whenever I finally find the time to sit down with him and ask what's happening, all I get is 'yes', 'no', or 'uh...' How do I develop a more meaningful father-son relationship, in which he would want to share his personal experiences with me?"

One of the most important human needs is to be listened to and understood by others. The closer a person is to us, the greater the need. Teenagers who take up with the "wrong crowd" and develop behavioral problems are later able to identify not being listened to by their parents as one of the first causes of the downward spiral.

In the case where a child does not feel comfortable enough to share with his or her parents, one needs to investigate why the child would forgo this important need of being listened to and understood by the most significant people in his/her life. We must ask ourselves: at which point in his or her life did my child stop being comfortable sharing with me, and went looking for others to confide in?

Here are a number of pointers on how to become better, more effective listeners to our children:

Be available. When a child is trying to strike up a conversation with his or her father or mother, but the parent continues to read the paper, work on the computer, or watch a TV program, the message received by the child is that s/he is not important or worthy enough for the parent to stop what they are doing and listen.

Pay attention. Eye contact is essential if the child is to feel that you are fully focused on what he or she is saying. Rephrase in your own words what the child has said to you. This will reassure him that you have listened and understood what he is trying to convey.

Do not judge or offer solutions. There are times when all a child wants is to be listened to and understood. Saying things like, "You shouldn't have done that; that was a mistake!" or "Here's what you need to do now....." are not helpful at this time. It is your duty as a parent to teach your child right from wrong, but those lessons should be taught at other, more appropriate times — not when your child is approaching you for empathy and understanding.

Keep their secrets. As a parent, we should aim to build up our children's trust and confidence in us. If and when your child confides in you, do not share the information with others. If your child feels that he or she can trust you, s/he will continue to turn to you for support and advice.

Try it — It works!