The number one cause of all fires in the United States is arson, and the majority of arson arrests made involve juveniles – teenagers aged 14 to 18. Indeed, 52 percent of arson arrests include teenagers under the age of 18. While younger children may start fires by accident or out of curiosity, often, teen firesetting is the result of more malicious intent. While teen violence in general is in decline, teenage firesetting is on the rise. Intentional teen firesetting occurs in a variety of circumstances and for a variety of reasons, and such arson can cause damage to property and injuries (and even cause death) to people. The costs of intentional teen firesetting can include monetary and social costs. Males are more prone to teen firesetting behaviors than females.

Common reasons for teen firesetting

Most intentional fires are set in unoccupied buildings or outdoors. However, there is a significant amount of intentional fires set in occupied areas. Most teen firesetting incidents fall into two categories:

  1. Those motivated by family circumstances
  2. Teen firesetting motivated by gang involvement or for revenge

Difficult family circumstances can lead to violent behavior, including teen firesetting. When bringing attention to family problems, teenagers who set fires on purpose often set them to occupied structures, usually their own homes. Arson against one’s own home is a very real possibility, and injuries due to the fire are more common in such cases.

Another main reason for teen firesetting is gang-related for revenge purposes or as a warning. Most of these types of arson occur in abandoned buildings and other structures. Often these buildings serve as drug houses or are designated as meeting places. In most of these teen firesetting instances, the offender does not set fire to his or her own home.

There are teens that, for whatever reason, simply enjoy setting fires. They do not do it necessarily mean for something to become damaged or people to be hurt; they simply enjoy watching the fires, and/or the feeling of power they feel in being able to create something with the sort of effects that fire can have.

Preventing and treating teen firesetting

One of the best ways to prevent teen firesetting is providing a loving environment in which there is supportive supervision. Because of the nature of many teen firesetters, the need for the cry for help and attention that teen firesetting can be is eliminated. Some instances of teen firesetting require more involved and intense treatment. This is because some professionals feel that teen firesetting involves mental health issues. If the problem is severe enough, counseling and possibly even hospitalization can be used as means to treat teen firesetting behaviors. Another prevention and treatment method used to help teen firesetters modify their behaviors includes fire safety education. When teen firesetters are in settings with other teenagers and children, it is important for everyone to know fire escape protocol, and to be educated in the nature of fire and how to appropriately use fire. Often, being properly educated as to how fire should be used can help prevent teen firesetting.

Firesetting Main source material:

  • “Arson and Juveniles: Responding to the Violence. Special Report,” United States Fire Administration. [Online.]