Studies have shown that the majority of normal children possess an interest in fire and nearly half have engaged in fire-play
Juvenile fire-setters fall into three general groups:
The first is made up of children, mainly boys,less than seven years of age. Generally, fires started by these children are the result of curiosity.
In the second group of fire-setters are children ranging in age from 8 to 12. Although the fire-setting of some of these children is motivated by curiosity or experimentation, a great proportion of their fire-setting represents underlying psychosocial conflicts. They will continue to set fires until their issues are addressed and their needs are met.
The third group comprises adolescents from ages 13 to 18. These youth tend to have a long history of undetected fire-play and fire starting behavior. Their current fire-setting episodes are usually either the result psychosocial conflict and turmoil or intentional criminal behavior. They have a history of school failure and behavior problems, and are easily influenced by their peers.
Children who set fires may have one or more of these characteristics:
- Curiosity with fire
- Lack of understanding fire's danger
- Recent change in family life (death, separation, divorce, move, abandonment)
- Parental alcoholism or drug abuse
- Attachment problems
- History of behavioral problems (such as lying, stealing, truancy, bullying, cruelty to animals, and substance use)
- Poor peer relationships and/or social isolation; being bullied
- History of physical, emotional or sexual abuse and/or neglect
- Bed wetting
- Blaming others and/or unwilling to accept responsibility for one's own actions
- Lack of empathy
What can parents do?
Unfortunately, families are reluctant to take action on what they think (and hope) is a one-time occurrence. Sometimes families simply ignore the seriousness of the behavior. However, ALL children who have engaged in fire-play or fire-setting behavior need intervention. Even very young children who are just curious need to be educated on the dangers of fire-play so that they do not continue the behavior.
Here are some specific things that parents can do:
- Parental Awareness. Take notice of your children. If they are using or carrying ignition materials (matches, lighters) for no particular reason, talk with them and LISTEN to them. Be aware of their moods, feelings, and relationships both within and outside the home
- Adult Modeling. Set a good example. Most kids learn how to use fire by watching the adults around them (most often parents). If the behavior of the adults does not show respect for fire, the behavior of children most certainly won't. Most kids learn how to relate to others and handle stress from their parents. How you live your life impacts greatly on how your children live their lives
- Access. Keep matches and lighters in a safe place, high and out of the reach of young children. Lock them up if necessary
- Intervention. Don't ignore the obvious. When kids use fire in ways that are harmful or dangerous, problems will occur. Whether through education or an in-depth mental health evaluation, seek appropriate help before problems occur. Punishment, discipline, and "scare tactics" do not work. You will need the help, support, and guidance of a professional. Fire-setting behavior will not stop without intervention
The Longmont Fire Department has a Juvenile Fire-setter intervention and education program available to city residents. It is FREE and CONFIDENTIAL. We will evaluate future risk of fire setting through child and family surveys, provide fire safety education when applicable, and refer families to other community resources for counseling when appropriate. Please call (303) 651-8426 or email for assistance.