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Behavioral and Emotional Problems Commonly Associated with Juvenile Fire-Setters

Updated: Dec 14, 2023


Juvenile fire setting can result from the seemingly innocent acts of naturally curious children

playing with matches and lighters or the apparently vicious acts of the emotionally disturbed

“pyromaniac.” Public schools are often the target of delinquent fire setters who usually have

histories of school-related problems.

For many troubled children, fire setting is a way of releasing anger and frustration and

unleashing resentment in an aggressive and often symbolic attack on society. The motives of

juvenile fire setters are varied and complex. For example, a ten-year-old boy admitted that he set fire to the family home because he was angry with his mother for spanking him. In another case, a 14-year-old boy stated that he “torched” a vacant building to impress his friends. In still another case, a 17-year-old boy told how he had set numerous fires over the years so that he could “feel the heat and watch the flames.”

The most common background among juvenile fire setters is a troubled family life. Problems

such as domestic violence, poor family relationships, abuse and neglect cause many children to set fires and commit other delinquent acts. Their fire setting behavior is often a symbolic

expression of inner pain and a cry for help.

Pre-teen fire setters

The following is a list of behavioral and emotional problems commonly associated with juvenile fire setters between the ages of four and twelve. It is important to note that children can have several of the problems listed below and NOT become either juvenile delinquents or fire setters. As a means of safeguarding the health of these children and protecting other persons and property, however, professional help should be considered for pre-teens who chronically experience one of the following problems or who have a history of several such problems.

  • Accident proneness

  • Aggression

  • Anxiety

  • Bedwetting

  • Cruelty to animals or other children

  • Daydreaming or talking about fire

  • Depression

  • Destruction of own possessions

  • Disobedience

  • Easily influenced by peers

  • Excessive and uncontrollable anger

  • Extremely moody

  • Fighting with peers

  • Hyperactivity

  • Impatience

  • Insecurity

  • Learning disability or learning problems

  • Lying

  • Out of touch with reality

  • Playing alone

  • Playing with fire

  • Running away

  • Self-inflicted abuse or mutilation

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Speaking in bizarre, illogical or irrational manner

  • Staring at fires for long periods

  • Stealing

  • Stress-related head or stomach aches

  • Stuttering

  • Teasing

  • Violence

Teenage fire setters

The following is a list of behavioral and emotional problems commonly associated with juvenile fire setters between the ages of 13 and 18. The thorough reader will note that many of the behavioral and emotional problems listed under pre-teens are also included here. This is because there is overlap between the two age groups.

  • Accident proneness

  • Anxiety

  • Chronic stomachaches

  • Cruelty to animals or younger children

  • Depression

  • Disobedience

  • Excessive and uncontrollable anger

  • Fears or phobias

  • Fighting with peers or siblings

  • Impatience

  • Impulsiveness

  • Insecurity

  • Obvious attempts to gain affection

  • Out of touch with reality

  • Poor eye contact

  • Poor loser

  • Running away

  • Self-imposed dieting

  • Sexual misconduct

  • Shyness

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Staring at fires for long periods

  • Stress-related aches, pains, constipation or vomiting

  • Temper tantrums

  • Trouble with police

  • Truancy

  • Unusual fantasies

  • Unusual movements such as tics and twitches

  • Violence

  • Withdrawal from family or friends *

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