Has 'ladies first' become a second-rate lesson?

"Others first" is what Mary O'Donohue teaches her son, 14, and daughter, 9.

"We teach them that every encounter we have with another person is an opportunity to be respectful to another human being," says O'Donohue, author of "When You Say 'Thank You,' Mean It." "We teach it for all people -- adults, classmates, peers."

O'Donohue runs manners drills at home, during which she devotes a day to a specific behavior she wants her kids to learn.

"I do think it's important to teach children how to treat others," she says. "To teach them how to respect other people, but also that they deserve to be respected."

A recent drill focused on holding the door for others -- O'Donohue holding the door while her children entered the house and, in turn, her children holding the door as she entered.

"It's just the most easy and natural way to be respectful: 'Oh, you go first,'" O'Donohue says. "It makes children feel powerful, and it's not something they have to wait until they're grown-ups to do."

It's a worthy lesson for both genders.

"I think you do certainly want your sons to be respectful of women and girls," she says. "But I also don't want to give my son or daughter the impression that women or girls are weaker or need doors held for them. I don't know if that notion even occurs to this generation, but we just teach across the board: Put others first."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE