08/09/2013 12:26 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2013

4 Ways Parents Can Improve Their Child's Education

There's a tricky balance involved in raising children: encouraging them to do the right thing without laying it on too thick while discouraging them from doing the wrong thing without making it sound appealing. Raising a child to value education, particularly a teenager looking for a little excitement, poses the same problems. Even educational professionals struggle with it.

Here are four concrete ways you can help:

1. Establish a Routine. Teens need a certain amount of freedom to make their own decisions, and being self-motivated is an important part of doing well in college. Yet, too much freedom will keep many high-school students from finishing their homework or other projects on time. Their attitude may be that if it gets done on time, that's good enough. But usually, that won't give the best results. Establishing a routine, like doing homework before or immediately after dinner, or reading at 8 o'clock at night forces students to focus. They know that's the time to get their work done, and those are skills they carry with them into college. Having a routine actually motivates students to do the work.

2. Check Progress. Knowing how your child is doing in school means doing more than just signing a report card or the occasional term paper -- it means being involved. You care about your student's education, and your student knows you care, but be sure his teachers know, too. If you have a good relationship with his teachers, you'll feel more comfortable approaching them should your child have a problem, and they'll feel more comfortable contacting you. Staying in touch is a great way to head off potential problems.

3. Limiting extracurricular activities. Parents commonly cut down on the time their children spend watching TV, browsing the web and texting, but cutting back on extracurricular activities is a bit more difficult. Students know that such activities look good on a college résumé, and parents encourage participation, happy their children have found something they enjoy. Some activities -- sports, clubs, volunteer work, etc. -- are good. Students need them. They bolster résumés and build character. But too many hurt grades, because they cut into class and study time. Colleges also know that too many activities mean too few in which students fully participate. They reveal a lack of focus and special interest. One or two activities at a time is more than enough to impress a college.

4. Discuss the Important Issues. Keep an open line of communication with your student. Discussing college, careers and classes encourages them to pursue higher education, but so does discussing your shortcomings and regrets. It may be easier to discuss their future than your past, but letting your student know your mistakes might help them make better choices, and we know that's really what being a good parent is all about - helping your child make the right choices - whether it's college, career, or something else all together. Don't be afraid to discuss the important issues when the time is right.