Ticket system helps kids track their own TV and game time

Mel came up with a brilliant way to put her kids in charge of monitoring their own screen time:

I got tired of being the boss of when my kids (three and five) could watch videos and DVDs. I also wanted to help them learn to make choices about media consumption while they’re still young. So I decided to set up a ticket system.

Every Friday, they each get tickets (purple for one kid, green for the other) that can be redeemed for ½ hour of “TV” time. I keep them on the fridge, so the kids can access them easily. They rip one off when they would like to watch something and give it to me. I always say yes, unless there’s a reason that it absolutely can’t work (like we need to leave in 15 minutes, or someone absolutely needs to use the computer). I want to give them the experience of making their own choices and practising delayed gratification. Whatever tickets haven’t been used at the end of the week are deposited into a “book bank,” where they magically transform into $1 per ticket that can be spent on books, which we would have been spending anyway. (Goes a long way at our local thrift store!)

We started up this system about five months ago, and it has worked wonderfully in our house. I don’t get nagged about “TV,” they’ve learned to think through their choices, feel a sense of control and empowerment… and the joy of having their very own books. Everybody’s happy!

We've been using a simpler magnet system around here (15 minutes of game or TV time per magnet, 4 given out per day, can be used any time on weekdays after homework and routines are done but before dinner, extras can be used during the weekend). So fantastic, especially for kids who aren't "go with the flow" types and need structure. Having a visual and tactile cue about how much time they have really helps them understand what it means.

Related: Print your own "screen time" tickets


  1. Cara says

    We use a somewhat similar system with my 15 year old step son when he’s at our house every other weekend. Instead of earning a monetary allowance, he earns time on the computer or the TV by doing chores around the house or babysitting his little brother. Different chores earn different amounts of time and he’s responsible for tracking his time on a timesheet which we sign off on. This is a win-win for us because I’m able to get things done and he gets some screen time. Oh….and if he goes over on his screen time, he’s got to pay us back double that amount of time in chores!

  2. Kevin says

    Is there a loop hole in the system if the kids learn to share? Would it be one ticket/magnet each or just one ticket per DVD?!

  3. Another Parent says

    We’ve used poker chips – different colors for each type of “desired activity”. Black for video games, White for TV, Blue for TV or Video Games. We’d use the blue chips as a “reward” for other activities.

  4. Dave says

    The problem I need to figure out is when all three kids cooperate – each one ends up with 3 hours of screen time instead of 1.

  5. Stolzes Herz says

    I loved this idea and started applying it right away, with just a little modification. I’m giving my children $10 per ticket. Did you say $1? You people are either really poor or really cheap.

  6. Jason Dufair says

    We’ve been doing this with poker chips for a long time. Mine get 5 a week per kid, with a max of 2 per day, non-consecutive. I like the idea of exchanging leftover tokens for books. I’ll start doing this.

  7. Jen says

    We made little “TV tickets” for my 3 year old daughter. Each day she can watch 3 programs, but she has to give me one of her tickets. When they’re gone, they’re gone. The next day she gets them back. It keeps her from wanting to “veg out” and waste all the tickets, and I appreciate when she saves one that can conveniently be used when I am preparing dinner!

  8. Reader says

    @ Stolzes Herz

    Wow… i hope your not a parent with that kind of attitude.

    If you are, i hope your kids don’t turn out that way.

  9. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Thank you, “Reader,” for jumping in, but Stolzes’s comment was made almost a year ago, and I’m thinking it was a poor attempt at sarcasm. I should have deleted it or asked for something more constructive from Stolzes long ago; it certainly doesn’t fit with the Parent Hacks vibe.

    At this late date, let’s just ignore it.

  10. mel says

    Hey there! Stepping in to defend Stolzes Herz a little bit… he (she?) left the same comment on my original blog post. Here was my response:

    “A bit of both, actually… both poor and cheap!

    “$1 seems to be just the right value for us, but I guess the value of each ticket would depend on how many tickets you give your kids, how much time each ticket is worth, and your family’s income level. What you want to accomplish with the system would also affect the value of each ticket. I hope you have success with applying the idea to your family!”

    And here was Stolzes respectful and somewhat sheepish response:

    “On second thought, I am doing the math and it will turn out to be expensive. My kids aren’t watching too much TV these days. Will go for $1 tickets :P

    “Thanks again for your advice!”

  11. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Mel: See? This is why I love the people who hang out here. Even the authors of misinterpreted comments from a year ago get treated respectfully!

    Thank you for taking the time to comment, Mel. Stolzes, wherever you are, hopefully your ears are tingling.

  12. ljs5896 says

    Thanks so much for the printable ticket. I just started using this concept with my 2 1/2 year old and he seems to like it. Looking forward to seeing how it works in the long run.