Social networks can be adaptive for members and a recent model (Ilany and Akçay 2016 Nat. Comm. 7, 12084 (doi:10.1038/ncomms12084)) has demonstrated that network structure can be maintained by a simple process of social inheritance. Here, we ask how juvenile vervet monkeys integrate into their adult grooming networks, using the model to test whether observed grooming patterns replicate network structure. Female juveniles, who are philopatric, increased their grooming effort towards adults more than males, although this was not reciprocated by the adults themselves. While more consistent maternal grooming networks, together with maternal network strength, predicted increasing similarity in the patterning of mother–daughter grooming allocations, daughters' grooming networks generally did not match closely those of their mothers. However, maternal networks themselves were not very consistent across time, thus presenting youngsters with a moving target that may be difficult to match. Observed patterns of juvenile female grooming did not replicate the adult network, for which increased association with adults not groomed by their mothers would be necessary. These results suggest that network flexibility, not stability, characterizes our groups and that juveniles are exposed to, and must learn to cope with, temporal shifts in network structure. We hypothesize that this may lead to individual variation in behavioural flexibility, which in turn may help explain why and how variation in sociability influences fitness.