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Identifying Teens at Risk for PTSD:

Many teens are exposed to emotionally traumatic events, putting them at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A new study found online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry helps clinicians target those who are most vulnerable to developing PTSD.

Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital analyzed data on 6,483 teen–parent pairs from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, a survey of the prevalence and correlates of mental disorders in the United States.

They discovered that 61 percent of the teens (ages 13 to 17) had been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event in their lifetime, including interpersonal violence (such as rape, physical abuse or witnessing domestic violence), injuries, natural disasters and the death of a close friend or family member.

Nineteen percent had experienced three or more such events.

Investigators determined the risk factors associated most strongly with trauma exposure included:

  • Lack of both biological parents in the home;
  • Pre-existing mental disorders, particularly behavioral disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional-defiant disorder.

Of all teens exposed to trauma, 4.7 percent had experienced PTSD under DSM-IV diagnostic criteria.

Risk factors for PTSD included:

  • Female gender: Of the total sample, girls had a lifetime prevalence of PTSD of 7.3 percent, and boys 2.2 percent;
  • Events involving interpersonal violence: the lifetime prevalence of PTSD was 39 percent for teens who had been raped and 25 percent for those physically abused by a caregiver;
  • Underlying anxiety and mood disorders (also a risk factor for exposure).

Recovery from PTSD was complicated if the teen:

  • Had underlying bipolar disorder;
  • Was exposed to an additional traumatic event;
  • Lived in poverty;
  • Was a U.S. native.

Need help for your teenager and live in the Redding, California area? Ron Huxley, founder of the Parenting Toolbox, is open to helping families through his private practice starting September 2013. If you prefer a consultation (not therapy) via Skype or email, click on the “Parenting Answers” link here or contact Ron at rehuxley@gmail.com.

Firesetting: Why kids do it and how parents can manage it

For parents, the dangers of fire are so apparent that the sight of a child anywhere near a flame is enough to send them scrambling. And fortunately, most kids are afraid of fire and understand that it can hurt them and others.

But it’s not unusual for kids to be curious about fire, too. After all, we enjoy campfires and singing over birthday candles. That’s why it’s so important to educate kids about the dangers of fire and to keep them away from matches, lighters, and other fire-starting tools.

Even with the best efforts from parents, kids might play with fire. Most of the time this can be handled by explaining the dangers and setting clear ground rules and consequences for not following them.

But sometimes kids seem to be especially preoccupied with fire and repeatedly attempt to set things on fire, which can be a sign of emotional and behavioral issues that require professional help.

Why Kids Set Fires

Young children who set fires usually do so out of curiosity or accidentally while playing with fire, matches, or lighters, and don’t know how dangerous fire can be. During the preschool years, fire is just another part of the world they’re exploring. Unfortunately, these fires tend to be the most deadly because kids in that age group don’t know how to respond to a fire, and may set it in a small, enclosed space, such as a closet.

As kids get a little older, they might be fascinated with fire. It’s fairly common for them to do things like light paper with matches, set things on fire using a magnifying glass, or play with candles or other things that have a flame. That’s usually not a cause for concern.

But if a school-age child deliberately sets fires, even after being reprimanded or punished, a parent needs to talk to the child and consider getting professional help. That’s especially true if the child is setting fires to larger objects or in areas where the flames can easily spread and cause injury and damage.

Talk with your doctor or consult a mental health professional if your child exhibits behaviors such as:

  • adding more fuel to fires in the fireplace, grill, or campfires, even when told not to
  • pocketing matches or hiding fire-starting materials
  • lighting candles, fireworks, and other things, despite being told not to

Kids might set fires for any number of reasons. They may be angry or looking for attention. They may be struggling with stressful problems at home, at school, or with friends. Some set fires as a cry for help because they’re being neglected at home or even abused. Even if they know how dangerous fire can be, they might have other problems that involve difficulty with impulse control.

Whatever the reason for firesetting, parents need to get to the root of the behavior and address underlying problems. It’s important to consider seeking professional help as soon as possible to prevent serious damage or injury.

Ron Huxley’s Response: I wanted to find an article on firesetting because it is a problem that we (parents and professionals) don’t talk much about. This blog post gives a good introduction into firesetting by children. It follows my “80/20” rule about misbehavior: 80% of the children do it for curiosity and attention-getting. 20% do it for more serious, underlying causes. It is this later group that parents need to take action on immediately by consulting with a professional. How have you dealt with this frightening behavior?