Children and Fire
Studies have shown that the majority of normal children possess an interest in fire and nearly half have engaged in fire-play.
Juvenile firesetters fall into three general groups:
The first is made up of children, mainly boys, under 7 years of age. Generally, fires started by these children are the result of curiosity.
In the second group of firesetters are children ranging in age from 8 to 12. Although the firesetting of some of these children is motivated by curiosity or experimentation, a great proportion of their firesetting 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 between the ages of 13 and 18. These youth tend to have a long history of undetected fire-play and fire starting behavior. Their current firesetting 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
- 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 firesetting behavior need intervention. Even very young children who are just curious need to be educated on the dangers of fireplay 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.
- Straight Talk. Talk to your children about the realities of the law. A fire that is set can lead to the felony charge of arson. This is a serious crime. Fire can destroy property, injure others, or take lives.
- 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. Firesetting behavior will not stop without intervention.
The Longmont Fire Department has a Juvenile Firesetter 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)774-4440 for assistance.