How to Identify and Treat Children and Adolescents Who are Pyromaniacs
A definition of pyromania is that it is a disorder that involves a lack of impulse control. In trying to define pyromania, one can determine that this disorder involves the need to continually try to start fires on purpose. Those with pyromania disorder feel the urge to start fires on a constant basis. These individuals feel a form of tension relief, or they feel they will be gratified with happiness and pleasure if they start fires.
Pyromania Meaning for Individuals
Those who fill the pyromania definition are not necessarily the same types of individuals who are involved with arson. While arson is typically used to burn things down in order to receive gain of some sort, ranging from monetary to personal, pyromaniacs feel the urge to burn things in order to instantly receive pleasure or relief. Similar to the impulse control disorder kleptomania, in which individuals constantly want to steal things for no apparent need or reason, pyromania is a result of impulses and not solely for destructive purposes. Additionally, those who are pyromaniacs do not have a way to control when and where they are going to set a fire. For example, the meaning of a fire for most pyromaniacs involves as little as lighting a match or looking at a lit candle.
Pyromania statistics show that this type of impulse control disorder remains much of a mystery. However, we do have some clues about how frequently pyromania occurs and in what avenue. According to the Encyclopedia of Mind Disorders, fire setters who have pyromania are often involved in other types of crimes, as noted in:
- 11 percent of teenage fire starters have been charged with forcible rape
- 18 percent of pyromaniac adolescents have been charged with nonviolent sexual crimes
- 19 percent of youth fire starters who are said to have pyromania have vandalized property
Additionally, the National Fire Protection Association noted that in 1998, fires that children or juvenile pyromaniacs set caused:
- 6,215 people to die
- Injuries for 30,800 individuals
- $11 billion worth of property damage
The majority of pyromaniacs are children or teenagers. The causes for pyromania in this age group has several different facets. One of the reasons that it occurs for this age is due to individual factors.
Individual Factors Related to Pyromania
For some there is the temperament that creates the need to have a lack of impulse control and instant gratification. This behavior has a great deal of association with other criminally associated activities, such as experimenting with drugs, breaking curfew, skipping school and lying to authorities. Parent’s pathology of pyromaniacs is also connected as some parents enforce the behavior of instant gratification and pass it along to their children through observation and experience. Finally, there is a belief or theory that there could be a neurochemical predisposition among children and teens who are pyromaniacs. In this theory these youth lack a natural ability to achieve slowly obtained gratification, or they lack the ability to achieve happiness through long term methods. Otherwise there may be a neurochemical imbalance that causes a child to be unable to create serotonin or other hormones that create a pleasurable feeling in the brain. This imbalance leads them to do impulsive behaviors, such as starting fires for those with pyromania.
Children and teens who are pyromaniacs are more likely to live in a household without their biological father or another suitable replacement father figure in the home. In the school and social setting, children or adolescents who are constantly seeking attention from their parents or authority figures may be more likely to be involved with impulsive behaviors. Additionally, a social issue, such as a lack of friends or being bullied, can lead to the need to be impulsive with pyromania in order to feel better about themselves. This form of control and power can lead to other impulse control issues, in addition to pyromania, such as using and abusing drugs or an inability to keep a steady job resulting in the need and subsequent thrill of stealing for financial gain. Other environmental factors include being abused in some way, such as physically, sexually or emotionally, at some point in their life. Also, being in the environment where someone else is setting fires inappropriately or using fires as a way to relieve stress can also lead to developing a fascination with pyromania for an individual.
Other Causes of Pyromania
Children or teens who are dealing with abuse or neglect may see pyromania as a way to take revenge on someone in their lives, such as a domineering parent or parent who does not show affection or attention. Additionally, children who are associated with having antisocial traits are more likely to participate in impulse control behaviors, such as pyromania, delinquency, or running away from school or home. They are likely to have ADHD or other disorders associated with their inability to adjust to everyday life. Note that pyromania is not classified as a mental health issue, but instead it is noted as a way to relieve stress in children who are undergoing emotional, behavioral or mental health issues. Also, those children who are using pyromania in order to make themselves feel good are more likely to want to feel more powerful or as if they are more prestigious than they actually are.
The main symptom of pyromania is the need to start a fire. The type of person who has pyromania who starts fires will do so on purpose on multiple occasions. The individual will experience a flood of emotions ranging from tension to stress prior to starting a fire. Then after they have started the fire, and during the watching phase of the fire, their emotions will be released and they will feel instant relief from their issues. This is completely different from someone who starts fires for purposes that are criminal in nature or because of emotional issues not directly related to the need to start a fire.
For example, someone who starts a fire because they want to burn something of someone else’s in order to get rid of it is not someone who is classified a pyromaniac. On the other hand, someone who is unable to express their emotions when stressed out and has a tendency to become stressed in order to find relief through fire is more likely to be a pyromaniac. For someone who is a pyromaniac, they are experiencing the fire as a pleasurable experience and have a tendency to focus on the flame on a regular basis.
For children and teens who are determined to have pyromania the main treatment plan is to first determine how serious the condition is, as it varies with the individual’s age, fire starting activities, personal experiences and environment. Additionally, if there are other conditions affecting their behavior, such as ADHD or ADD, this needs to be taken into account in regards of an overall treatment plan. The majority of youth who are treated for pyromania are usually treated through some form of counseling or therapy. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy is often appropriate for this age group and the condition. This can help the child discover why they feel the need to conduct in impulsive behavior, which often stems into more than just pyromania.
After the reason behind the behavior is discovered, the therapy should be continued on a regular basis in order to provide tools and behavior modifications that will help the child work through related circumstances in the future. For instance, some teens will develop other issues, such as an inability to socialize or to productive with homework, as they enter puberty. This could create a trigger for their childhood pyromania, due to the stress and inability to cope. Thankfully ongoing therapy can provide positive tools for children to carry on with them through their adolescent in order to prevent future issues with impulse control.
Specific treatment methods include:
- Behavior contracting using token or reward reinforcement
- Parenting training for their parents of the pyromaniac
- Negative practice or satiation with the use of corrective consequences
- Relaxation training and techniques
- Fire safety awareness training
- Fire prevention education
- Therapy for the individual as well as the family of the pyromaniac
- Covert sensitization to the use of fire
For most children and teens who are pyromaniacs who undergo treatment there is a good chance that they will experience a full recovery. However, as the pyromaniac goes into adulthood it can be more difficult to achieve recovery due to the inability for the adult to cooperate with the treatment program. For adults medication is most often the most successful scenario, but it takes time and lots of work in order to change their behaviors so to avoid using pyromania for relieving stress. That is why it is so important to treat pyromaniacs at an early stage and when they are young. Also, by preventing children and teens from having access to fire starting materials, you are reducing the instances that they will use fire for stress relief.