“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’” (Luke 18:16–17 NIV)

When I watched Graeme Schnell’s presentation on Focus on the Family Africa, my initial response was one of discouragement: As an unmarried young(ish) adult, I felt a little left out and wondered where I fit into the picture of promoting the beauty of the family unit and how it mimics the communion and unity of the Holy Trinity.

But later on in the symposium, I was reminded of something: Regardless of my marital status, I can influence a young person in either a positive or a negative way, whether consciously or unconsciously. And that means that my interactions with children and youth matter, each and every one of them.

An aspect of Focus on the Family’s strategy in Africa is to better equip not only parents, but parent figures too, which is imperative since only 32% of children in South Africa live in two-parent homes. Another part of Schnell’s presentation that stood out to me was his description of their “Alive to Thrive” online resources that aim to prevent teen suicide by training those who lead or take care of youth to recognize and pre-emptively address associated issues. The guides are written for and freely available to “anyone playing a role in the life of a child.”

I had to stop and consider those words for a moment: anyone playing a role in the life of a child. That includes me, and it likely includes you too. Parents are not the only ones who influence their children. There are many other adults who could play a role in a child’s life: aunts, uncles, cousins, au pairs, mentors, bible study leaders, holiday club leaders, tutors, teachers, sports coaches, caregivers, grandparents, babysitters, older siblings, pediatricians, and the list goes on …

I thought back to just this morning when my cousin’s two-year-old son showed me the Christmas beetle he was holding. One of his biggest passions in life is insects (or “goggas” in Afrikaans). Although my cousin and I joked about Jake becoming an entomologist one day, when I counted the beetle’s legs with him, the fact that beetles have six legs and spiders have eight wasn’t important (especially not at the age of two!). What was important to him was that I showed an interest and shared his wonder at the tiny creature in his little hand. That also made it a lot easier to encourage him to let the beetle go—he even copied me in waving goodbye to the little gogga.

In those mere minutes of engagement, there was an opportunity to delight in and encourage a child’s wonder at God’s creation, and an opportunity to influence his behavior for good. I didn’t have to go looking for a “teachable moment”; it just happened, as it does on a daily or hourly basis when one spends time with the next generation. This has prompted me to reflect on whether I’m taking that responsibility seriously, even as a single adult.

Those of us blessed enough to spend Christmas with family likely share many engaging interactions with children at this time of year; but now that the festivities are over, we should consider the role we play in the lives of the youngsters we come into contact with at our place of work, at our church, at our gym, or even at a friend’s house during a social gathering.

We know that God has a heart for children. Jesus said that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16 NIV) Let’s make sure we’re taking care of the children in our lives and are mindful of our interactions with them, no matter how fleeting.

If faced with a suicidal emergency, don’t hesitate to call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group on their crisis line: 0800 567 567.