The Company You Keep

Dear Robin:

My daughter Grace, 15, has never given her father or me any problems. She’s smart and a hard worker and except for teenage grumpiness from time to time she’s a great kid.  

However, at the end of the last school year she started spending time with a new group of “popular” friends and they aren’t like her usual ones.

They are mean, sarcastic, sexually provocative, have no manners and dress more like 21 year olds than teenagers.

I’m worried these girls’ behavior will rub off on my daughter.  It hasn’t yet, but it’s only been about three months.  

Thoughts?  Advice?  My husband is adamant I stay out of it!

Mama Bear

Dear Mama Bear:

Please tell your husband to settle down.  Dispensing advice is my purview, not his, and I do not appreciate his intrusion onto my turf.

Unfortunately you spotted only one issue in this life test.  I’ll give you a handy list of everything that should be keeping you up at night:

  1. As you noted, your daughter could adopt the mannerisms and attitude of her new pussy posse;
  2. Grace could lose the friendships of the higher quality girls with whom she used to spend time; and
  3. Your daughter could be harshly judged by others for her mere presence in the bitch clique, even if she isn’t a bitch.

Let’s address each problem separately.

Problem One: Asshole by Osmosis

Your daughter could adopt the mannerisms and attitude of her new pussy posse.

We spoke at length about Grace on the phone.  While it’s true people are impacted and shaped by those around them, those prone to take on the nastiness of others tend to be insecure, weak, and not all too bright.  Grace isn’t that girl, so that’s the good news.

The bad news is repeated exposure over time to toxic people could wear down her positive attributes.  Keep an eye on this.  

Solution to Problem One:

Encourage volunteer work, spending time with positive and uplifting friends, monitor her wardrobe to ensure she is age-appropriately dressed, and communicate with her specifically about your concerns and how much you admire her empathetic and generous characteristics.

Problem Two: Good People Gone

Grace could lose the friendships of the higher quality girls with whom she used to spend time.

Most teenagers are wily, unpredictable, irrational, and flakey.  They flit from thing to thing, person to person, like a hummingbird in search of the sweetest stamen.

Grace could at any moment take a look at those around her and come to the conclusion that this crowd, while exciting and popular, is not for her.  

Sadly, those with whom she best fits, those young women who exemplify and reflect the attributes of kind and caring people, may be long gone by the time she wanders back.  

People don’t like being rejected, especially for superficial reasons, and remember we are talking about teenagers.  They can hold a grudge longer than Vanna White’s been spinning that wheel.

Solution to Problem Two:

Have a series of talks with your daughter about the importance of surrounding herself with good people who have the same value system.  Remind her it is possible to maintain different friendships with different types of people and that variety enriches us all.

Caution your daughter that if the new “friends” are trash-talking her old ones and admonishing Grace to dump them, she will suffer the same fate at their hands at some point.  It isn’t a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.

Problem Three: We Are Judged by the Company We Keep

Your daughter could be harshly judged by others for her mere presence in the bitch clique, even if she isn’t a bitch.

Let me give you a couple of examples of this phenomenon.  

When I was in high school and college, most of my close friends smoked pot.  A lot of it.  I did not.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to come off like an innocent here.  I gave it my best (pot) shot.  I made valiant efforts time and time again to get high and enjoy it, but something in my metabolism just hates marijuana and I had so many bad reactions to it that I finally wised up and stopped trying after maybe 10-20 times.

Even so, to this day people I see from the past always assume I am still “the stoner” I never actually was in my youth. It’s funny, but it’s telling.

Another example:

Yesterday Mr. Patience and Understanding and I were talking about Tonette Palmer, wife of infamous Cecil the Lion killer Walter J. Palmer.  I noted that while I have deep sympathy for the offspring of the world’s most hated dentist and his unfortunately-named trophy wife, I hold her in contempt along with him.

I simply do not believe that good people can live with bad people for years upon years.  I do not believe that good people can surround themselves with bad people without some day deciding to walk away on principle.


I know someone who is universally viewed as horrible (alleged) human being and often hear people say, “But their spouse is a pretty decent person!  How can that be?”

I don’t buy it.  

He or she may enjoy a fairly good reputation in our community but something is going on there: either fear of becoming a victim of their spouse or the plain fact the two are well-matched. The same can be said for the current Mrs. (and future ex-Mrs.) Donald Trump.

“But Robin,” you are thinking, “Not all people are either good or bad!  Aren’t most of us a mixture of both?”

Yes!  I agree.  But like Justice Potter noted in his famous pornography opinion, when it comes to a truly bad person – a person who delights in the misery of others and who actively seeks to hurt them as well – I know one when I see one.

Over time as we age it seems all of us are engaged in figuring out who is right for us and who is not.  The older I get, the more I see high quality people finding each other and shitty people bonding together.  Much as water seeks its own level, aging humans tend to do the same.

Solution to Problem Three:

There is no solution to Problem Three beyond awareness.  

Give Grace this column, tell her you love her, and that while you won’t censor her friendships (trust me: that will backfire in a spectacular fashion) you need her to understand that judging those by the company they keep is not only a prevalent human habit, it’s a valuable one.

Take a deep breath, Mama Bear.  

Like sweaters, we all “try on” people for size from time to time.  Those of character will know fairly soon when a friend looks really bad on them, and given what you told me of Grace I think she will recognize these new associates are as unflattering as jumpsuits.

(Side note to the fashion industry: stop trying to make the jumpsuit happen again.  It’s not happening.)




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