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I'm trying to write an essay about teenagers and modern society (I'll spare the details), and I am looking for a word that describes the attitude of both caring about everything (eg. Marks, Social Standing, Achievements), and yet not caring about everything (eg. not doing homework, procrastinating, purposefully aggravating others) The word would describe a person expressing both attitudes at the same time.

Anyone have any ideas?

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    Welcome to the ELU :-). Details are welcome when they provide context. It is always helpful to include your research/reasoning, perhaps to let others know which are the words that seem like they would fit the context, but are not what you are looking for.To find out more about how the site works you can have a look at the help centre page. IMO the question is fine with minor edis.
    – Lucky
    May 2, 2015 at 4:20
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    Surely, everyone cares about some things but doesn't care about others, not just teenagers.
    – user323578
    Apr 15, 2019 at 12:42

9 Answers 9

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You might manage to express that idea with insouciant which is such a self-concious sort of word that although it means 'devil-may-care' it implies a bit of an act.

Otherwise perhaps a paradox: 'deliberately unperturbed', 'with studied indifference', 'puritanically laid-back'. Mix and match until it resonates.

//Insouciant 1829 careless, indifferent, unconcerned. [Shorter OED gives fr and eng pronunciation for which I don’t have the symbols;; try “in-‘sooss-eant” for eng..]

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Teenagers are notorious for being contradictory.
or
Teenagers have a tendency to be paradoxical. They say one thing, but do another

According to Collins Dictionary:

paradox
1. a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement that is or may be true ⇒ religious truths are often expressed in paradox
2. a self-contradictory proposition, such as I always tell lies
3. a person or thing exhibiting apparently contradictory characteristics

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While I'm not certain there is a specific word to sum that up (the suggestions thus far are wonderful,) I would recommend considering something concerning the anxiety-resistance cycle that has become quite common among youths.

There is a great deal of anxiety surrounding all aspects of their lives and pressure to do well, but there is also often a paralysis that comes with this. This can be true even if the individual doesn't show or feel the symptoms readily associated with anxiety.

Check out https://www.life-with-confidence.com/procrastination-can-be-signs-of-anxiety.html it has some excellent descriptors that you may find useful.

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Ambivalent

Having feelings both for and against the proposition.

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I agree that it will probably be difficult to find a single word for this. How about "steady half-heartedness" or "courteous ennui"?

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You can try indifference or nonchalance.

Also, superficial

Concerned with or comprehending only what is apparent or obvious; not deep or penetrating emotionally or intellectually

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Answering this much later for future interest: Nonplussed gets at your question - it means both disconcerted / perplexed and not bothered or suprised (chiefly US) However, the problem with nonplussed is exactly the fact that it has two meanings. It almost always requires a follow up to explain which meaning you meant.

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Nonchalant sounds about right considering the expression of caring or not caring

For instance,

The lady waved to the teenager and he looked at her in a nonchalant manner and head nodded as a response to her polite and friendly wave.

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From the descriptions given (someone who cares about the rewards, but doesn't care about the work to get there), this sounds like an opportunist,

one that is opportunistic or that practices opportunism [from the link: the art, policy, or practice of taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances often with little regard for principles or consequences] [and the example given] a slick, shady, amoral opportunist who has only one desire: to get through life without a day of labor

On a side note, I would figure every generation makes such comments about the youth.

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