One by one, their names were called to stand at the front of a packed meeting room following their arrest in late July for attending an underage drinking party on Elgin Avenue. For the most part, these teenagers and young adults didn’t have much to say as a local judge sentenced them to community service and a fine, but handfuls of the participants–and their parents–became indignant when asked by this newspaper for their take.

The mother of one young woman went so far as to say that local law enforcement should be thankful she hasn’t sued over the dangerous stampede of fleeing partiers caused by the police’s arrival at the party.

Good grief. We sincerely hope this isn’t the message these kids take from this ordeal.

Just after 2 a.m. on July 29 a number of police responded to the 1000 block of Elgin Avenue to break up a large house party. The homeowners were out of town, money was collected at the door and alcohol was provided.

Ignoring for a moment the very serious issue of underage drinking, there are a number of poor decisions that even the sober kids need to acknowledge. Teens in Hanover Park, Hickory Hills, Bartlett, Schaumberg and other outlying communities gathered with strangers in a stranger’s house at two o’clock in the morning. Regardless of their intentions, we hope the participants and the parents see a situation ripe for problems.

Add a few cases of beer or a couple bottles of liquor into the mix and the potential for life-altering behavior has escalated. Drunk driving accidents, fights, unprotected sex and any number of acts that allow an emerging adult who’s eager to prove their bravado suddenly become the expectation rather than the exception.

Certainly, we can believe that there were people at this party who were not drinking and we’re sure they feel victimized for being lumped in with all the others. Perhaps in a perfect world the police and the judge would have been more discriminating in handing out punishments, but guilt by association is a concept that will extend beyond your teenage years. Perhaps that bitter feeling will prompt wiser decisions in the future.

There is the allegation that authorities allowed revelers to drive themselves home, and this is concerning, especially in light of the prosecutor’s comments. If police are returning the keys to people they just picked up on suspicion for underage drinking, it would seem either the charge should be dropped or transportation arranged.

But the police’s action doesn’t put those kids at the party. It’s very clear from the details of this case that kids and parents should not be looking for a scapegoat.