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Keywords:

  • adolescents;
  • antisocial behaviour;
  • firesetting.

Objective:  To investigate relationships between firesetting, antisocial behaviour, individual, family and parenting factors in a large community sample of adolescents.

Method:  A cross-sectional study of students (n = 2596) aged 13 years on average, from 27 schools in South Australia with a questionnaire on firesetting, antisocial behaviour (adapted 21-item Self Report Delinquency Scale), risk-taking, drug use, suicidality, physical and sexual abuse, depressive symptomatology, hopelessness, anxiety, locus of control, self-esteem, family functioning (McMaster Family Assessment Device) and parenting style (Influential Relationships Questionnaire). Data analysis included χ2, anova and logistic regression.

Results:  Large significant differences are found between firesetters and non-firesetters on all measures. Among adolescents with serious levels of antisocial behaviour (7+ acts included in diagnostic guidelines for DSM-IV conduct disorder), firesetters differ from non-firesetters in reporting more extreme antisocial behaviour (10+ acts), extreme drug use, suicidal behaviour, and perceived failure at school. Gender differences are apparent. A study limitation is the single item assessment of firesetting.

Conclusions:  Self-report firesetting is strongly associated with extreme antisocial behaviour in young community adolescents, in support of existing evidence from incarcerated delinquent and psychiatric populations. Early detection of community firesetters demands further assessment and intervention. Clinicians should consider its coexistence with serious drug use and high risk-taking (especially in girls), and suicidality, sexual and physical abuse (in boys).