30 answers

15 Y/o Playing with Fire

Hi Moms,
My husband found my 15 y/o son burning some papers in his bathroom last night. There are many issues with this including the fact that we have two babies in the house, the fact that he could be covering up some other smell, and not to mention that the house could go up in smoke. I had noticed that he liked to play with lighters, although, I've never found any hidden in his room or among his belongings. Its never been something that he's hidden until last night.
My question is, how do I discipline him? My husband, his step-dad, wants to ground him from everything (that's another issue altogether). I want my son to be exposed to what could happen if he let one of his play sessions with fire get out of control. I tried the whole guilt trip with my son by making him think about how guilty he would feel if anything would happen to one of his baby brothers if he started a fire that would put the babies in danger. I think it helped for all of a minute.
What do I do? Help!

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I would take him to the fire station or maybe call up there and explain the situation. They could probably give you some ideas or even show him what could happen.
Hope that helps.

More Answers

My son did the same thing when he was 11. I was pregnant at at 2:30 in the am we smelled matches, he was playing with fire downstairs in the middle of the night.
We contacted the local fire dept and enrolled him in a fire education class, which gets through, esp when he realized the legal and criminal problems that you can charge him with the next time it happens.
It was the best thing we did for him. We attended the class with him and you could see a light bulb go off. The class was 4-5 hours on a Saturday and was free

2 moms found this helpful

My youngest son whose 13 is the pyromaniac in the house. What we've done is to give him his own fire pit in the backyard. He is a boy scout, so has training in terms of safe fires, etc. Even so, this does sound slightly wacky, but it provides him a safe outlet for this interest. And, he is always the family member that knows where the matches are AND he always has a lighter.

If he did start a fire in the house, he would have privileges removed. My tactic is just remove every single electronic device from his bedroom. So, in this situation his step dad has the right idea - but I think you (as the birth parent) should be the one to oversee the discipline for a couple reasons. 1. It will show solidarity with his step dad's view and I think that is a very important part of discipline at this age. 2. In this case, I think you're more likely to be fair and I think it will somewhat protect his relationship (wherever that is right now) with his step dad.

Another thing we do that gives my son an outlet and helps him understand the fact that we don't randomly light fires in the house is that we always a candle at dinner and he gets to light it and he knows we always blow it out when we're done eating.

Also, a trip to your local fire station might be a good idea. Some towns have programs where the kids get to spend a day there. This can do a couple of things - it might "spark" an interest in being a fireman and it will re-enforce the severe risks of "playing with matches".

2 moms found this helpful

First, good for you for seeking advice and not just going straight to the discipline, though obviously that has to happen. It's also very intuitive for you to recognize that he could be covering up "other smells". I had a problem with my step-son when he was 5 after my first son was born. He began to try to set everything on fire that he could, including the living room curtains that were flame retardent thank heavens. I sought help from my local fire dept. They offered to work with him and had him come up there once or twice a week and talked to him and explained fires, how they start, the damage they do - planned and unplanned, and showed him tons of pictures. This took care of the problem. With your son being older, they might well have some type of program that he could be involved in that might satisfy his natural curiousity of fire while helping him also learn to be respectful of it and not play around with it. Also, I'm a middle school teacher. I would highly suggest that you speak to your school counselors to find out if there are ways they can help your son, talking to him to find out what the root of the problem is - there could be issues at school, as well as some likelihood of some jealousy of the younger children getting to stay home with mom all day, that could be contributing to his anger. At the very least they can recommend you to some additional resources that might help. The main thing is that you can't allow him to put anybody in danger. Appropriate discipline is good - think about whatever natural consequences such as not being allowed to be left alone, bedroom door must be kept open at all times, etc....Teens value their privacy so much, but if they choose to violate your trust, then they are also choosing some consequences that they don't have to agree with. Another good parentng website for helping you through is Love and Logic. Good luck!

You have gotten some good advise to ponder. While doing that please also consider your husband and son attending counseling together. REASON: You (estrogen) are trying to tell Testosterone(hubbie) how to raise testosterone (son). If they already have a bad relationship, good counseling will bring out ways to cope and connect. Don't think "Step-", think relationship - authority figure - family - future character.

Counseling will help in the 2 of you coming to realize differences are not wrong, but you have a need to balance each other, and to be respectful of each other to be effective in training your children to be adults.

Dear G.,
I can feel your pain. My son is now 22, but he definitely had an affinity for fire from a young age. It is very natural for boys to be curious (I'm not sure why this doesn't seem to be an issue for most girls) about fire. My ex is the Assistant Fire Chief in a nearby town and has always had a thing for fire. That certainly didn't help my son's curiosity about it. My son was constantly getting in trouble for burning small things like paper, matches, candles, etc. when he thought no one would catch him. He just loved to watch it. I'm convinced there is a little pyromaniac in all firefighters, because it was such an issue for so many of them when they were little.

My advice to you is be vigilant about watching him. Talk to him about the effects of if it gets out of hand. My dad fell in a fire when he was 5 years old. His hands were scarred the rest of his life. A friend of mine accidentally caught a large field on fire when he was a teenager and it ended up costing their family alot of money by the damage it caused to a building it burned down, that did not belong to them. Rent the movie "A Home of Our Own" with Kathy Bates. It's about a very poor family. The son accidentally catches the house on fire and they lose everything. Take him to a hospital and introduce him to burned children who were curious about fire. I did a few of these things, but mainly had his dad and the fire dept. talk to him. It helped, but he's still got the fascination. However, he no longer burns things now. Good luck. I know this is worrisome! B.

I would take him to the fire station or maybe call up there and explain the situation. They could probably give you some ideas or even show him what could happen.
Hope that helps.

Mary B's advice about giving him an outlet for his pyro activities is a good idea. My brother went through a pyro phase as a teenager (he too was in scouts), but eventually he grew out of it. Well...maybe not. He's 30, but is a grilling and meat smoking fan. :)

If he started a fire in the house, there should definitely be some punishment. But, since nothing was damaged (as it would seem in your post), I wouldn't go down on him too hard. Just be clear on what will happen if he decides to do that again. Maybe what he was burning is something he either wanted to keep from you or something that made him angry. Does he like any girls at school? Could it have been a note from a girl that made him mad? If I were you, I would tell him that as long as it's not something you're supposed to see (like a report card), he's welcome to burn his papers, but ONLY in small quantities in the fire place with the flue open. He definitely shouldn't burn papers outside in a breeze, because the smoldering pieces could blow away and set the grass or leaves on fire.

call your local fire department and explain it to them.
they have films and photos of fries as well as stores on what an happen if you play with fire. they a and will teach him the dangers of fire. maybe go to a hospital that has a burn unit and let him see for his self what fire an do. I was burned bad by a fire on my left leg. they can very easily get out of control . get him books about being a fireman, maybe he is just interested in becoming one. maybe it's the little boy in him of dreaming of becoming a fireman. i wish you and him good luck on finding the cause of all this.

I have to say that I agree with Kaycee's comment. The fire safety course should really help. When my broth was 16 or 17
he would drive around setting dumpsters on fire. He would play with lighters and burn trash in the bathroom also. Two years later he became a firefighter in New Orleans where he stayed behind to help with Hurricane Katrina.

Call the fire department and ask them if they can give him a "talking to" about the dangers of fire and what they see in their job every day.

All boys love to play with fire, I think it's why we have fireplaces in Texas homes. Does he have an opportunity to be appropriate with fire? Many boys don't get to be the outdoorsmen that all used to be. Maybe you can provide some camping type activities for him.

Perhaps that's all he needs---but you are right to keep your finger on the pulse of this.

One last thing, I don't think I would bring up how he is affecting the babies. He probably does love them very much, but he may have some conflicting feelings of jealousy. I wouldn't add guilt to that.

Ok sounds like a cry for HELP! Where does he rank amongest the teens? Is he the youngest or the middle. Talk to his school councelor and get her to check with his teachers to observe him for any problems at school with other children. Just check you may be surprised and it may have nothing to do with school. If he is the youngest of the teens he may feel jealousy towards the babies and that is why he did not care. You can also call your local fire department and speak to the chief and see if he has any suggestions. I watched a movie on LMN but can't remember the name about a child who played with fire strictly because of the facination and ended up setting a fire which killed his best friend and showed how it impacted his life. Not pretty. I am not a psysic of any kind but if you say you explained the harm that could come to the little ones and it did not effect him then I would say one on one attention is what he is after and yes strong discipline will only make it worse because if he does want attention and that is all he feels he gets is negative which I am not saying it is that way but a childs perspective is not always the whole picture then he will act out more to get even more negative. Negative attention all the time is better then positive attention some of the time to a child. I have an 11 year old who had to deal with a new child in the home when he was 8. He was only child till then. His grades started dropping at school so we did the normal. Grounded, talked alot typical parent things yet grades did not improve and he began arguing with us when we tried to help him with homework. I got so frustrated that I finally said fine, your work is your work you pass or fail it is up to you but I am done fighting trying to help. I quit even asking if he had homework. When he brought papers home with ggod grades we told him how good that was and just ignored the bad ones. Same with report cards. The teacher sent a note home about his grades and poor class work and I sent it back with a note he could see that he was in charge of his education so she needed to talk to him about it. I secretly sent and email to her and explained. His grades shot up so he would get more attention. I started doing the same around the house. He misbehaved I told him calmly to go to his room I did not want to be around his behavior. When he was beeing good I would play board games after baby was in bed or we would pick a movie to watch. He now treats the baby better and the rest of us and even helps out around the house. Hope this helps some I am sorry so long but sometimes hearing what others went through and applying it is better then just telling you what to do. Good Luck

If he's a problem child already, then there are obviously issues of the heart (with the parents too) that need to be dealt with BEFORE the fire issue. But to be creative, maybe he really does think fire is neat- maybe it's kind of a hobby to him. Maybe he could job shadow a fireman one day or research at the library books on fire. Maybe his stepdad could take him camping and let him build and make a fire. Or just get a firepit in the back yard and let him build it and be in charge of maintaining it and making sure it goes out before everyone goes to bed. Or to make some extra money, maybe he could clean other people's fireplaces out- maybe $5-$10 per fireplace (he could do friends and family, or advertise on craigslist, or in your neighborhood).
If there's a bigger heart issue, I HIGHLY encourage you and your husband to read- The Five Love Languages of Children. If you want your son to have the best teenage years possible, read this book and work hard to make that happen! Sometimes stepdad situations can be hard, so you have to play the middle man and bring them together in a healthy constructive relationship.
Hang in there!

Tough Love told us to change how we react. If you are a screamer be calm and catch them off guard. Every one of my teens tried drugs. I suspect this is what is going on. Smoking three did. All but one quit later. My son and daughter were left alone a lot as preteens and were smoking. My son burned holes in my brand new couch it took years to buy. He still does drugs and now is 32. So what ever it takes find out and these kids are getting smarter and smarter. WE suspected that my son put drugs up in a speaker in the ceiling. We had a spotless new home and one fo the screws to it was scratched. I found pot in the window topper once and had it when I turned around the kids had taken it. My son would hide my keys from me and I would be going insain trying to figure out where I put them. Found them once in a book in his bedroom. Watch scream and protect as much as you can. We had to record calls from our room to know what the kids plans were. Usually they were headed some place else. I would pray they messed up some place so I could restrict them. And they did. WE lived in New Orleans not far from the big city and only 45 min away to drinking and danger. So God bless and these years were the hardest years for me. There now is a gap from 17 to 30 where I have little contact with them. Some but not a lot. They moved away both. One in Ca and one in Seattle. Both left to be with dad. That never worked out but put them on a path that is making their future hard. Good Luck. I had law enforcement detectives talk to them no avail. But our job is to let them have some control and say but guide all you can. God Bless G. W

sign him up for communtiy service with the fire dept. tell the fire dept why and they are usually very willing to help or an outreach center for people who have been effected by a fire. put your son in charge of the family fire safety plan...have your son map out the escape plan for your own home and test all alarms on a regular bases etc... as you knwo you have to get to the bottom of 'why' he was burning. if he is interested in fire he may want to be a fireman or tech guy but like you said what else is it?????? good luck

Hi G.,

Call your local fire department and tell them exactly what's going on with him and what all you've tried. I don't know if the guys here in Texas do this, but I had a similar incident with my oldest son back in Oregon. He (my son) had to be taken to the local FD and was lectured by the men, then shown photos of severly burned people. This took a few hours to complete and the FD was EXTREMELY happy to try to help. My son came away with a new outlook. He said, "Mom, it made me sick. The burned people looked like burned roast." He's now a grown man and has taught HIS sons the same lesson(s). Another time with another child, they (he and a friend) had started a lawn fire. They were made to go to the home where the fire took place, apologize, and tell the owner they would work for no money to repair the lawn. They also had to speak to the local FD and write THEM a letter of apology as well.

I'm not sure WHAT the lure of fire is, and certainly have no perfect way of detering the urge. Just do what you can and use the FD to help if need be.

Good luck,

A granny in Richardson

Call the local fire department and inquire about youth volunteering program. Also, next time there's a local house fire, you/your son need to go visit the site and let him get a good view of what could potentially happen for his carelessness.

Grounding. Yep, ground his behind from everything except going to/from school. Have him detail your vehicles sans vehicle keys, wash the house windows inside/outside, do house hold chores, scour the bathrooms, do his own laundry from here on out.... Make him face the consequences of bad behavior. He will be breathing... and probably call you everything in the book but the end result willbe he will respect you later for teaching him to be responsible for his actions.

Good luck.

A friend of mine had an incident with her son burning things outside behind the house. She called the fire department and had the firefighters talk with her son about the dangers of playing with fire. I think they had a video or something that they also watched and discussed, and the firefighters also warned him of the consequences of arson. Hope that helps!

Dear G.:

This is more than just a grounding issue. There are underlying issues for why he's playing with fire. Your son needs to see a counselor to sort out what is going on. Talk with his school and/or his doctor to find someone. This is very serious!

L. F., mom of a 13-year-old daughter

This is a tough one. What about trying to do visual learning. What about pulling articles about houses burning down or deaths from fire. I know as a teenager you think your invincible; I am not sure if it will help. However, it may get him thinking a bit more before doing something like that again. Also, why not do a fire drill in the middle of the night; or in the middle of the day. You should probably practice anyway with two babies. We need to do one ourselves - I have two young ones.

I also had a friend who called the fire department when her son was messing with fire and they helped. But that should not be considered discipline. Just a lesson. If you believe this is a problem and not a one time thing, perhaps you can make him volunteer in a hospital that has a burn unit.

My son went through a fire playing stage. My husband also FREAKED OUT. And for good reason. Our neighbors son burned their house down 3 days before Christmas like that. The dangers are very real. Luckily my son is now 19 and although I think he is still fascinated with fire, he has learned to respect it.

I ride the middle of the line on this issue. On one end of the spectrum is that it CAN BE a sign of emotional problems. But it is not always. On the other end is a "boys will be boys" mentality. I don't agree with that either. Curiosity is one thing... curiosity at the sake of killing your family is not to be tolerated!!! All boys do not like to play with fire. That is absolutely untrue. Some children are more curious then others. So it could be a curiousity thing that needs to be nipped in the bud.

I would try calling the fire dept and asking them for advice. They may be able to show your son photos, or talk with your son about what they see and how quickly innocent exploring with fire can turn into disaster. Your son might be more willing to listen to "the experts" than mom.

dear G. S
I think it would be wise to have your son see a Doctor. It sounds like you may nip it in the Bud so to speak.Good luck with this. It could be a very serious thing.

I used to teach Chemistry. Most boys really enjoyed fire even if it was just a bunsen burner.

The angle I would take is calling the fire department and ask for a "lesson".

Also, kids that age have an invinciblity complex. I would throw in the general idea of not doing it because it really worries and scares mom and dad. He's more likely to stop for you than for fear that something will "really" happen.

Best wishes.

Wow! This boy is SCREAMING for attention!! And given the scenario you just described it's understandable. He's the youngest, but now the oldest....probably doesn't know where he fits in. Is his father in his life? It messes with a kids whole personality and sense of self when they are missing a parent(regardless of the "quality" of that parent). His step-father has no clue - you can't "punish" someone for being troubled! It's tough enough to be 15! I urge you to get him some one on one time with a counselor of some sort and quickly. And don't say "I can't afford it" you can't afford NOT to! There are lots of resources and aid out there. Please get him some help before it's too late, and I mean too late for HIM to recover and grow and be a happy successful young man. I'll bet he's thinking "How will I be able to have a car?" Who's going to teach me stuff? Who are his friends? Do you have them over? Does he have appropriate resources for clothing and fun things? I'm going to guess the "babies" get most of the attention and money in the house while he's expected to help out and do without? I'm sorry, maybe I'm totally wrong and everything is wonderful there and he's just a "bad kid"......somehow I doubt it. I wish your son much luck and happiness and I hope you can help him be a happy person.

Please get your son the professional help he needs. This is not a "discipline" issue but rather disturbed behavior that can and often does escalate. He needs a good therapist. Please do this for him and the safety of others.

maybe he was burning something like an old letter or pictures. My husband is a fireman and he loves fire so don't go to the negative just yet. I would go on the internet and look up burn victims and remind him that they have to be scrubbed down to get the old skin off. and contact to local FD and see what they can do. Good luck!

Contact your local fire dept. and explain the situation. They may offer some suggestions on an appropriate punishment. They could possibly counsel him or make him do some "fire station" chores that may have lasting impression on your son.

Hi G.. When my oldest was 10, I found him w/ a lighter and a can of spray paint. He was "experimenting" making a homemade blow torch. When I saw him I freaked - wrong thing to do. I spoke with the school councelor and she recommended calling the Ft Worth Fire Dept. They have a course that kids can go through that shows them the hazzards of fire. I'd start there.
Mansfield, TX

My son has a fascination with fire, as many boys do. He usually used it to create things or to do experiments - curiosity. When he was about 8 years old, he almost burned the house down when trying to hide a burning stick under something in our house. Here's what I did. The next day I told him that I was taking him on a surprise trip! I didn't sound mean or stern about it. I had him put a blind fold on while I drove to the local fire station. He was VERY surprised when we arrived there. All of the firemen came into their living room when I brought Daniel in. NONE of them were smiling. I tried to get Daniel to tell them what he did, but he was too stunned, so I told them. I then pointed out to Daniel that NONE of the firemen were SMILING! I added that playing with fire could cost one of them their life! Then one of the firemen took him out to look at the firetrucks and let him get in it and such. It was a lesson that he remembers well. He is now 20. And while he still likes to play with fire, it is in a controlled campfire or similar circumstance-- he is responsible with it. Hang in there. He'll turn out to be an outstanding adult! ~ N.

have you thought of maybe taking him to a burn unit at a local hospital? sorry to many responses to read if that was suggested. good luck.

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