Playing with Fire: Children, Adolescents and Firesetting


Hatim A. Omar, MD (Editor)
Division of Adolescent Medicine, KY Children’s Hospital, Department of Pediatrics, Lexington, Kentucky, USA

Carrie Howell Bowling, PhD (Editor)
Lexington Fire Department, Fire Investigation Bureau, Lexington, KY, USA

Joav Merrick, MD, MMedSci, DMSc, (Editor)
Medical Director, Health Services, Division for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, Jerusalem, Israel
Division of Adolescent Medicine, KY Children’s Hospital, Department of Pediatrics, Lexington, Kentucky, USA
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Jerusalem, Israel
Division of Pediatrics, Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Centers, Mt Scopus Campus, Jerusalem, Israel
School of Public Health, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Series: Pediatrics, Child and Adolescent Health
BISAC: MED069000


Table of Contents

Rural and urban residents accustomed to seeing fire engines racing with sirens wailing and lights flashing are unaware of the problem of juvenile-set fires. Firesetting behaviors among children and adolescents are serious and have associated with it, serious individual and societal costs. Every year, several thousand children and adolescents aged 14 years and younger in the United States alone are injured or killed. Firesetting, pyromania and arson are topics that have existed in the literature since Sigmund Freud explained firesetting through his psychoanalytic model. Helen Yarnell’s studies during the 1940s and 1950s were the first, however, to focus on the behavior of youth firesetting.

Her study in 1940 found that over 70% of adult incarcerated arsonists and institutionalized pyromaniacs had firesetting histories beginning in their childhood. She also introduced the concept of the ego triad: firesetting, enuresis and cruelty to animals as predictors of violence. The psychoanalytic view of firesetting continued to pervade the juvenile firesetting research through the 1970s. Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a shift occurred in the study of juvenile firesetting and also in the number of studies being conducted on the topic. Researchers began to analyze juvenile firesetting from multiple perspectives of a child’s life. The social learning and dynamic-behavioral models developed by these researchers gave clinicians a more thorough framework for understanding children who set fires and assessment tools to use in diagnosis and treatment planning. In this book, we discuss recent research on firesetting in childhood and adolescence. (Imprint: Nova)

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