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In their lively and entertaining weekly discussion of issues related to higher education, KUT’s Jennifer Stayton and Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger explore the topics of higher education, lifelong learning, and exercising the brain. Ed and Jennifer practice what they preach, too, by introducing math puzzlers and brain teasers to keep listeners on their toes.

Higher Ed: Trust And Communication Can Help 'Helicopter' Parents Land Safely

The idea of "helicopter" parenting may not have a formal definition, but we all have a pretty good sense of it when we encounter it: parents who seem to control and hover too closely to many aspects of their children's lives, often to the detriment (and sometimes embarrassment) of those children. In this episode of the KUT podcast "Higher Ed," Southwestern UniversityPresident Dr. Ed Burger and KUT's Jennifer Staytontake a discussion about helicopter parenting to a live audience of - yes - parents and students at Southwestern.

First of all, Ed believes a couple of things about "helicopter" parenting: It has always been around, perhaps exacerbated in more recent times by the abundance and reach of personal technology. It also can come from a place of wanting what is best for children. But that concept of what is best for children, and how to achieve it, can be a sticking point.

"I think the question is: 'what's the definition of what's best?'" says Ed. "And if you take away all the independence and agency, are you really helping, or in some sense are you manufacturing a problem for the future?"

So how can parents back off from such close monitoring but still help their children learn and develop skills to maneuver through life? Ed believes setting an environment of trust and open communication will go a long way.

So will helping children establish realistic expectations about life before they head out on their own.

"Life is really a roller coaster, but certainly one's undergraduate formal career is honestly a roller coaster of that sort," says Ed. "You get to these peaks which are really exciting and you're really happy and you want to stay there forever.... And then all of a sudden, you go way down and something awful happens... Instead of thinking about that as a down moment, I think we need to realize that life.... is a roller coaster. So those peaks and valleys are going to happen. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.... It's the  downturns where the real learning can happen."

Listen to the full episode to hear more of the discussion with some college parents about easing off of helicopter parenting. And hear some answers to a provocative question for the future: what might happen when a generation of children with hovering parents become parents themselves?

No puzzler this week. It took off early for Spring Break but will be back in a few weeks!

This episode was recorded on Feb. 23, 2019.

For all of the Higher Ed episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

Jennifer Stayton is the local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @jenstayton.
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