‘Character is what you do when no one is watching.”
It’s a bit of a trite saying, attributed to coaches, motivational speakers, and fortune-cookie writers (by the way, whose idea was it to replace fortune-cookie predictions with treacly aphorisms from the “Successories” reject pile?).
Still, the expression’s popularity illustrates the power of the idea behind it. Character is what you do when the only controlling authority is your conscience.
Because young people do not yet have fully formed characters, they often need incentives beyond exhortations to do the right thing. That’s one reason most parents reward good behavior and punish bad behavior — to create real-world consequences for poor decisions, and thus train the habits of the heart.