Juvenile Firesetting

September 2, 2010

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Campfire child (Flickr/rudis)

In the latest episode of Clever Apes, we shared stories from listeners about playing with fire as kids. Of course, I too have my own ill-fated story.

At around 10 years old, I was burning a piece of paper in my room and when the flame got too close to my hand, I panicked and threw the paper into a plastic garbage can. I remember the house fire alarm shrieking as ran to grab a towel to snuff out the flames. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the only damage was the disfigured garbage can. When I tell this story I usually let out a chuckle or two (mostly at my own stupidity), but many stories have a much more serious outcome.

According to the most recent report from the National Fire Protection Association, children playing with fire were responsible for approximately 14,500 structure fires, 130 deaths, and $328 million in property damage in 2006.

In fire-safety and psychology circles, any instance where a person under 18 years old is using fire inappropriately is called "juvenile firesetting." We talked to developmental psychologist Dr. Michael Slavkin about his work with juvenile firesetting to find out more. He says that children act out with fire for different reasons depending on their age. (click the "Listen to this story" link above to hear the interview)

For more information about fire safety and how to talk to children about fire visit the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance and the U.S. Fire Administration.

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