John Williams, director of youth services of Oak Park and River Forest townships, leads a discussion with parents on ways to reduce teen drinking parties.Devin Rose/Staff

The reactions were similar at all the tables: Is that something my kid would do? That wouldn’t happen at my house.

About 50 parents, teachers and facilitators with IMPACT (Parents and Community Together to Reduce Youth Alcohol and Drug Use) gathered at Roosevelt Middle School in River Forest, Oct. 19, to share concerns and ideas about how to teach their kids about drugs and alcohol.

With the help of John Williams, director of Youth Services of Oak Park and River Forest townships, they came up with strategies to use after reading through a report about an underage party in Oak Park last spring that landed one girl in the hospital.

“This is not experts telling you what to think and how to do stuff,” Williams told the group. “We have all the answers that we need.”

Attendees questioned the party in the reports, which was crowded with middle- and high-school students and spun out of control. The mother of the girl allowed her to throw the party, but the mother thought there would only be about 20 people there. The crowd grew substantially beyond that number.

Perhaps the mother, who was present, was too embarrassed to call the police, or her daughter was begging her not to, said Kimberly Louis, one of the parents at Wednesday’s meeting. Maybe she wanted to maintain her status as the hip parent, said Cindy Koester.

“Where were the neighbors?” asked Peggy Dring. “If this happened on my block, I would think people would come.”

Heidi Hamernik, one of the facilitators who sat at each table, said parents can get into a habit of thinking their middle school-aged kids are too young to consider drinking and parties.

Following discussions, parents brought up strategies like using code words that their kids can text them if they need to get picked up. Other parents suggested always being in control and not being afraid to not be a friend, and having pre-emptive talks about what kids might encounter during a night with friends.

Parents acknowledged that social media can be a danger if it is used to spread messages about underage drinking or drugs. Melissa Potrawski, a youth interventionist in River Forest schools, said that while kids’ judgment is still questionable, they are very creative about planning ahead. “Be a detective if you have to,” she said.

One parent asked about repercussions a child might face from peers after something their parent did. Williams said children learn to use their own gifts, like a sense of humor, to escape those situations.

But for parents who really get stuck, Williams said, think of the most loving thing to do.

“Does anybody think someone will love your kid more than you do?” he asked the crowd.

“This is work,” he said, adding that the good thing is, “you don’t have to do it by yourself.”

A similar event with IMPACT will be held Nov. 7 at Percy Julian Middle School at 7 p.m, click here for more details on the event.

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