Thursday, May 04, 2006

25% of teens admit setting stuff on fire

TORONTO -- More than one in four Ontario teens admit they set objects on fire, some of them on a regular basis, says a new report on adolescent mental health raising concern about Canadian minors' easy access to lighters and other incendiary devices.

The study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), released yesterday, found that 27 per cent of Grade 7 to 12 students across Ontario reported torching something at least once during the previous year.

"Perhaps more importantly, we found that about 13 per cent reported multiple fire- setting -- three or more times during the past year -- so we have this cluster of students who are involved in more risky fire-setting," said Ed Adlaf, a research scientist at CAMH and co-author of the report.

CAMH psychologist Sherri MacKay, provincial director of the Arson Prevention Program for Children (TAPP-C), said few kids start fires with the intention of causing property damage.

"The concern, of course, is that the fire is going to spread beyond what they intend it to and we know that happens in a good number of cases," McKay said.

She and others involved in fire prevention want federal, provincial and municipal governments to consider legislation that would ban Canadian minors from buying incendiary products such as lighters, light fuel and matches.

"Any child of any age can walk into a corner store and buy a lighter," she said.

The latest figures from the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office show that between 1999 and 2004, an average of about 360 fires a year were started by young people aged 12 to 17, causing more than $8 million in damage and 33 recorded injuries.

The report also found:

- About one in 10 students (representing more than 100,000 across Ontario) said they seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months.

- The percentage of students who played cards for money rose to 33 per cent in 2005 from 24 per cent two years earlier, likely due to the current poker craze, said Adlaf. The prevalence of problem gambling remained stable, with about four per cent (representing 45,800 students) at risk.

- About one-third of students reported being bullied since September. About 27 per cent said they bullied others.

- About two per cent of students reported calling a telephone crisis helpline at least once in the last 12 months.

The London Free Press

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