For as long as I can remember, I have been one of the biggest, kid-loving people I know.
I'm not even sure how it started, but I absolutely love any opportunity I can get to interact with younger people.
I attended a Christian school, which went from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade. As a teenager, one of my favorite parts of the day was when the little kids' faces lit up when I saw them, as they waited for their parents to pick them up at the end of the day.
When I was in college, I worked as a waiter at a restaurant, and my favorite part of the week was the night when small children's meals would be discounted.
Everyone else I worked with probably thought I was insane, as Kids Night was also one of most hectic parts of the week. But I loved it.
These days, my wife and I attend a church which has a lot of kids, and it seems as if the number of children I see every Sunday grows larger each week. I still love being goofy with them, and making them laugh at my silliness.
As I mentioned in another recent column, my wife and I were recently blessed to become Sunday School teachers to a group of 4-year-olds. In light of this new experience with these precious children, I want to be more than just the funny guy to those who are younger than I am.
This brings me to thoughts I've been having a lot lately, about the importance of investing one's life in the lives of young people.
As I have gotten older, so have the children whose lives I find myself wanting to help. As those children have gotten older, of course, their challenges have become more complex.
While I still love making those young people laugh, I also find myself wanting to be a positive influence on them in any way I can.
They need someone who can give a listening ear, offer a prayer on their behalf, or just let them know someone believes in them.
I think we often get so wrapped up in our own day-to-day struggles, we don't take the time to notice when someone is hurting. If we don't pour our lives into those of the younger generations, how can we know for certain they will be strong enough to handle the challenges they will face in the future?
I know I don't have all the answers the young people in my life might be looking for. However, I think, sometimes, what those children need isn't for someone to tell them what to do, but to listen as they sort through their own situations.
Without question, this is not always the case. Sometimes, what young people need is for us older people to be as firm with them as possible, in order to keep them from making mistakes they will regret.
I have no children of my own, and I know some people may feel like I have no idea what I'm talking about.
Still, I do have several young people in my life, who consider me a father figure, an older brother, or, at least, a surrogate uncle.
It is a tremendous honor for me to have their trust to such an extent, and I don't want to abuse it. The best way for me to ensure I never do abuse it, in my mind, is to be as available to them as possible for those times when they need to know they're not alone.
Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.