SPEAKING UP: Nathaniel Ryan, 17, is working hard to make sure his peers feel supported and safe.
SPEAKING UP: Nathaniel Ryan, 17, is working hard to make sure his peers feel supported and safe. Jiordan Tolli

'It is OK to be you': Teens break down stereotypes

'IT IS OK to be you."

That is the message 17-year-old Nathaniel Ryan is spreading, along with other Warwick teens, as they work to give other young people in the region confidence to break the mould.

Nathaniel is on a mission to unite those around him at a time when he believes youth around Warwick are afraid to be unique and feeling isolated.

To make others feel safe and supported, he's volunteering his time and leading his peers to ensure no one spends their lunch time alone.

His message of support comes as Youth Week arrives to mark the achievements and the unlimited potential of young people across the Southern Downs.

By being a strong and confident role model for other kids, he is hoping to let people know support is there when they need it.

"Being different is cool - I don't want any kid to think otherwise," Nathaniel said.

"No one should feel like they're alone in this world.

"I want kids to know that they have a friend in me to talk to and that I will be their support network if they don't have one."

Nathaniel, 17, is a school leader at Assumption College and is working hard to make inclusiveness a priority.

For his final year, he is taking charge to inspire change and make the lives of students "a little better".

"One thing I noticed at school is there was a level of engagement that was missing," Nathaniel said.

"There were all these opportunities for it but it started to become uncool to get involved in events. I have been trying to show people that having different interests is what makes you unique. By removing those boundaries, I think everyone has really started to see themselves as equals and that we're all the same. The environment is different and there are a lot more kids putting their hand up to do more."

Apart from representing his peers at school, he is also a member of St Mary's Catholic Parish Warwick Youth Group.

"These days, some kids that are Catholic feel left out from time to time," Nathaniel said.

"I think it's because they have friends that don't bat an eyelid or think too much about God, but to them it's something really important.

"With youth group the kids can come along and realise they don't have to feel alienated and they are free to express themselves and their beliefs."

Warwick Youth Connect are a group of young people who are also encouraging those around them to embrace their difference.

Member Rachelle Mohajer said it was important to be a role model for the younger generations.

"Our diversity is our strength," Rachelle said.

"When young people meet others from diverse backgrounds and learn to make friends with people from different age groups and that have different interests, they start to see we're all the same."

Rachelle said Warwick Youth Connect's focus was engaging young people in programs to encourage resilience and build involvement.

"For a lot of young people, they think they aren't capable or don't possess the capacity to transform their community," she said.

"Youth Week is a reminder for us that not only do we just exist, but we have an incredible power to make a difference."

Headspace Warwick manager Travis Maguire said positive role models were a strong contributing factor to enabling youth to have resilience and an optimistic outlook on life.

"When youths have relatable peers in their hometown that they can count on, it's more realistic for them to be able to achieve certain goals," he said.

"Having those positive role models and seeing people close to us have good relationships is really important because they contribute to our learned behaviour. It shapes our ethos on life and what young people deem as appropriate or inappropriate, true and false and right and wrong."

Mr Maguire said the flow-on effects of same age role models were endless and could encourage young people to have positive attitudes and follow learned behaviours.

"We all want to be wanted and to be a part of something," Mr Maguire said. "If people don't have those role models then they might be more inclined to go down a tricky path.

"It's one of those things, smile and make the whole world happy."

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