We agreed with our son that he could take a gap year before heading to university as long as he did something productive with his time. However, despite all of his reassurances, he has basically spent most of his time on the couch or in bed. He never helps out around the home or with looking after his siblings and now he has started to hint that he doesn’t think university is for him. We are tearing our hair out with the frustration of it all and constantly arguing with him. Can you help a very worried mom?

Gosh can’t teenagers be challenging?! I think there are plenty of people out there who will read this and empathise with your situation. The teenage years can be some of the most turbulent and testing parents encounter. I understand your sense of frustration. It sounds like he’s got stuck in a comfortable rut and doesn’t want to leave the security of it. The trouble is it’s difficult to sort out a situation like this when tensions run high and conflict is always on the agenda. So, it’s my advice that this is where you need to really start to make changes. Remember, he may be in his late teens, but you are still in charge when he lives in your home at your expense and that means you must take the lead on the situation.

Tension has a way of clouding everyone’s judgement, so it’s important for you and your husband to step away from the situation to formulate a plan of action. A united front is vital and both of you sticking to the plan will be the only way of shaking him out of this stupor and into a more motivated frame of mind. After that, the first thing you should do is lighten the mood around the house. Take a deep breath and start to project positivity, because someone needs to break the chain of conflict and it’s unlikely to be your son. Ignore all of the things that wind you up and then try to sit down with him at a time when it feels more relaxed.

With teenagers, it sometimes feels like you’ve slipped back into those toddler years when stroppiness and tantrums happen at the drop of a hat. It’s a phase of life where they are testing the boundaries again, and as a parent you need to show them in a firm, but fair way where those boundaries are. Begin by affirming how much you love him and want the best for him, but then set out your stall establish what you expect. Avoid telling him how bad things will be if he doesn’t get himself off the couch and do something more productive as this vivid image of failure can be deflating. Instead, be very direct in what you expect him to do to and explain the consequences if he doesn’t. Of course, think about those consequences very carefully as you have to be prepared to follow through on them. It seems to me that he is too comfortable and a bit of a shake-up is in order. A good place to start is to stop – by this I mean stop doing all of those practical things that parents tend to do for their kids, when they could so easily do them for themselves. Laundry, meals etc – all of these things are important to learn when it comes to being independent and going out in the big wide world, so a little bit of tough love will go a long way.

It’s also important, in those calm chats you’re going to have, to listen to him. Why doesn’t he think university is the place for him? Does he have an alternative plan for the future? Find these things out and then try to guide him in the right direction. He’s still young and it’s hard to make decisions about the rest of your life at such a tender age. It’s ok for him to feel his way, with you as his safety net, as long as he is moving forward with purpose and engaging with life rather than letting it pass him by.

So, step away, step-up and make sure you draw those firm boundaries. That should give him the wake-up call he needs (an alarm clock wouldn’t go amiss either!)